Consumers engaging in riskier borrowing behavior

As the economy continued to improve in recent months, consumers generally began to feel better about the prospects of borrowing once again. But that shift in attitude has once again led to riskier behavior.

A number of factors related to consumer borrowing habits led to an uptick in U.S. consumer credit risk during the fourth quarter of 2011, breaking a run of seven consecutive quarters in which these problems declined, according to the latest Credit Risk Index from the credit monitoring bureau TransUnion. Overall, credit risk climbed 2.3 percent, but was still 1.7 percent lower than it was during the same quarter in 2010.

"[The] rise in the CRI may also be attributed in part to a notable increase in the percentage of non-prime consumers with an active bank card," said Charlie Wise, TransUnion's director of research and consulting. "As lenders make credit more widely available at the riskier end of the credit spectrum, it is inevitable that the risk of default will increase for the population on average."

Consumers who want to ensure they're not putting themselves in credit danger may want to order a copy of their credit reports. By doing so, they may be able to find incorrect or unfair markings.