Isles add most new card debt, again
BY Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i consumers once again led the nation when it came to increasing their credit card balances, though remained among the nation's best in paying off their bills.
A report released by TransUnion LLC, a major U.S. credit agency, found Hawai'i credit card holders increased their balances owed on credit cards to $5,893 in the fourth quarter.
That was a 4.5 percent increase from a year before and represented the biggest balance increase in the nation, said Ezra Becker, director of consulting and strategy for TransUnion's financial services business unit.
Hawai'i ranked similarly in Trans-Union's third-quarter report, which found the steepest increase in balances on a percentage basis occurred in Hawai'i compared with a year earlier.
The latest report found the increase in the last quarter of 2009 went against the national trend. The average balances for the country shrank by 5.1 percent between the fourth quarter of 2008 and fourth quarter of 2009, from $5,729 to $5,434.
But the report also showed Hawai'i credit card holders did well when it came to delinquencies, or the percentage of borrowers who are past 90 days due on at least one of their credit cards.
Only 0.95 percent of them were delinquent statewide, ranking them 42nd highest among states and the District of Columbia.
It compared with the national rate of 1.21 percent in the fourth quarter.
"From a delinquency perspective, that's really good news," Becker said. "I don't see anything here that is dramatic or traumatic."
He said the rise in balances here could be linked to higher expenses such as those for gasoline along with higher unemployment.
Among other factors that can affect delinquency rates are how conservative credit card issuers are, including denying cards or higher credit limits to riskier customers.
Demographics can also play a role. Becker said Hawai'i has an older population, and generally people have greater financial resources to weather economic downturns and have more equity in their homes as they age.
TransUnion reported Hawai'i as having the ninth-highest credit card balances nationally.
It said Alaska continued to have the highest statewide average credit card debt at $7,382.
Tennessee was second at $6,823, while Alabama was third at $6,332.
It said the lowest debt was in Iowa at $4,139. North Dakota ($4,318) and West Virginia ($4,448) were second- and third-lowest.
The highest delinquency rate was in Nevada, at 2 percent. The lowest was in Alaska, at 0.67 percent.
TransUnion prepared the report using anonymous credit card data from 27 million randomly sampled credit card files between October and December 2009.