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Delinquent payments on consumer loans decline

WASHINGTON - Late payments on consumer loans dipped slightly in the first three months of the year but remained at a level not reported since the early 1990s, the American Bankers Association said yesterday.

The group said late payments on a broad sample of consumer loans fell to 2.62 percent in the January-March quarter from 2.65 percent in the last quarter of 2007.

Still, the rate was the second highest since the first quarter of 1992, when the economy had just emerged from a recession.

Payments are considered delinquent if they are 30 or more days past due. The survey is based on information supplied by more than 300 banks nationwide.

Late payments rose in five of eight categories that make up the trade group's composite of consumer loans.

Still, the overall rate of decline was driven by a lower delinquency rate for auto loans arranged through dealerships, said James Chessen, the association's chief economist. Late payments on those loans fell in the first quarter to 3.09 percent from 3.13 percent.

Late payments on auto loans through banks rose to 1.92 percent from 1.9 percent in the last quarter of 2007.

Late payments on home equity lines of credit jumped to 1.1 percent, the highest rate since the first quarter of 1997, and delinquencies on home equity loans dipped slightly to 2.34 percent. Late credit card payments rose to 4.51 percent, the highest since late 2006.

Mr. Chessen said that because of job losses, slow income growth and falling real estate and equity markets, there is "little relief" in the coming months.

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