Rising unemployment pushed late payments on consumer loans in the first three months of this year to the highest level since at least 1974, a study by the American Bankers Association shows. And that doesn't even include credit card delinquencies, which also reached a record by one measure.

It's an important indicator of the economic stress people are under. But it's also based on data that's now three months old. When big banks start reporting second quarter financial results next week, it'll give a clearer sense of just how badly rising unemployment and falling home values are hurting consumers and the companies that lend to them right now.
The ABA blamed the rise in past-due payments on the spike in joblessness.The unemployment rate reached 7.6 percent in January and rose to 8.5 percent by March, according to the Labor Department.

"The number one driver of delinquencies is job loss," said James Chessen, the group's chief economist, in a statement. "Delinquencies won't improve until companies start hiring again and we see a significant economic turnaround."

Late payments in the first quarter rose to 3.23 percent across eight kinds of loans, including auto, boat, home equity and personal loans, the ABA says. That's compared to 3.22 percent of loans which were paid at least 30 days late in the previous quarter, and 2.62 percent a year ago.

Credit card delinquencies, measured separately, rose to 4.75 percent, compared with 4.52 percent last quarter and 4.51 percent a year earlier. While the number of accounts past due is still below the record set in 2005, the total balances on delinquent accounts reached 6.6 percent of all credit card debt, the highest ever.

Delinquencies have never been this high in the 35 years that the ABA has collected data on them, Reuters reported.

The biggest jump among the categories the ABA tracks was in car loans made by banks. Just over 3 percent of those loans are now at least a month past due, up 0.98 percentage points from the previous quarter and 1.09 percentage points from a year ago.

There are signs that people are borrowing less as the economy's woes mount. The Federal Reserve says revolving consumer debt -- such as credit cards -- has fallen for nine straight months.

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