Credit card charge offs increased in April

Even as many consumers are still getting their finances back in order and reducing the frequency with which they fell behind on their credit card payments, they saw the rate at which major lenders wrote off extremely delinquent balances rise in April.

Credit card charge offs rose for the first time in 2012 during the month of April, as lenders were forced to deem 5.44 percent of all balances uncollectable, according to the latest Charge Off Index from Fitch Ratings. That was up from the 5.17 percent observed in the same month last year, but was driven largely by a calendar quirk at Citi that gave the lender additional time to write off some seriously delinquent accounts. Discounting those additional defaulted accounts, the charge off rate would have actually remained flat in April.

At the same time, the charge offs on retail credit cards slipped to 7.99 percent, the report said. This rate is now verging on the levels seen prior to the recession, and has fallen from 10.59 on a year-over-year basis.

Delinquencies fall at the same time
But even as the number of consumers who were so far behind on payments that their accounts were charged off increased, there were fewer borrowers who were delinquent for a shorter period of time, the report said. In all, delinquency dropped once again in April, to hit lows not seen in 17 years. In all, lenders saw accounts 60 days or more behind decline to just 2.03 percent of all balances, down from 2.14 percent in March.

Similarly, those late-stage delinquencies also dropped for retail accounts, dipping to 2.98 percent, the report said. That was the first time the rate has been lower than 3 percent in three years, and is significantly lower than the average of 4.11 percent observed since Fitch began tracking these monthly statistics in 2004.

Fitch noted that the improvements in delinquency have been continual over the last several months, the report said. Further, many experts may see these positive changes as being generally encouraging, because changes in delinquency are usually seen in the default rate several months down the line. As a consequence, declines in the former should lead to better performance for the latter , and indicates that consumers are continuing to get their financial feet back under them.

During the recession, lenders large and small saw the number of credit card balances they had to write off as uncollectable increase significantly, as millions of cardholders struggled financially and were unable to pay their bills. But since the end of the recession, instances of both delinquency and default have been declining significantly, a trend many experts expect to continue at least through the end of the year before rates bottom out.

Delinquent and defaulted accounts can take a major toll on consumers' credit scores, so consumers should carefully examine their credit reports in order to ensure that every component has been reported fairly, accurately, and with full substantiation. A credit repair law firm may be able to assist in that regard.