Consumers faced fewer delinquencies this year

The number of consumers who fell behind on their credit card bills last year slipped, as the number of late payments experienced by lenders fell appreciably.

The national rate at which consumers fell 90 days or more behind on their credit cards fell to just 0.78 percent at the end of 2011, a decline of nearly 5 percent from the same time the year before, according to a new report from the credit monitoring bureau TransUnion. However, consumers also increased the amount they owe to lenders on average to a total of $5,204, up 4.8 percent from the end of 2010.

"[Last year] closed out with the lowest year-end card delinquency rate nationwide since 1995," said Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting in TransUnion's financial services business unit.

Paying bills on time is perhaps the best way to make sure your credit score stays as healthy as possible, but checking your credit reports is another necessary step. These documents may contain unfairly reported notations that can make it more difficult to obtain the best available rates on various lines of credit.