WASHINGTON – Late credit card payments shot up in the second quarter, suggesting that more Americans were having trouble paying bills as the economy weakened and layoffs mounted.
The seasonally adjusted percentage of credit card accounts 30 or more days past due rose to 3.93 percent in the April-June quarter, up from 2.99 percent in the first three months of the year, according to a quarterly survey released Friday by the American Bankers Association.
The delinquency rate on credit cards in the second quarter was the highest since the association began tracking it in 1980.
``We're seeing the effects a stagnant economy and increased layoffs can have on consumer finances,'' said James Chessen, the association's chief economist.
The nation's unemployment rate worsened in the second quarter as the economy's growth nearly ground to a halt, expanding at a rate of just 0.2 percent, the weakest performance in eight years.
Even before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the economy was struggling. The unemployment rate soared to 4.9 percent in August, the biggest one-month jump in more than six years.
Trying to stabilize the economy in the wake of the attacks, the Federal Reserve cut short-term interest rates Monday for the eighth time this year, pushing borrowing costs to a nine-year low.
``While lower interest rates have helped some consumers refinance their debt, it's clear that refinancing cannot solve all consumers' financial problems,'' Chessen said.
Meanwhile, the delinquency rate on a composite of other types of consumer loans, including auto loans and closed-end home equity loans, climbed to 2.51 percent in the second quarter, highest since the third quarter of 1997. In the first quarter, the delinquency rate on a composite of loans was 2.40 percent.
Some Americans might opt to use some or all of their tax-rebate checks, which were mailed starting in July, to pay off debt, economists said. But the Bush administration is counting on people to spend the money, which would help the economy.
Economists fear the country could fall into recession if consumers - who have been keeping the economy afloat - sharply cut back on spending in the face of the attacks.