Hawaii 10th in card debt


POSTED: Tuesday, November 24, 2009


NEW YORK » Hawaii credit card users were saddled with an average card debt of $6,002 in the third quarter and posted the steepest percentage increase over the second quarter of any state.

The 5.8 percent increase placed Hawaii's credit card debt per borrower 10th nationally out of 51 (including Washington, D.C.), according to data released yesterday by credit reporting agency TransUnion. Detailed second-quarter numbers weren't immediately available by TransUnion.

Spokesman Clifton O'Neal of TransUnion said Hawaii's unemployment rate, which was near a 31-year high of 7.2 percent in October, and the cost of living always play a big factor in the numbers.

“;Hawaii had pretty high unemployment and lost a lot of jobs in tourism and construction in the third quarter,”; O'Neal said. “;Right now, consumers are using their credit cards for liquidity to carry them from paycheck to paycheck or to supplement their unemployment.”;

Despite the increase in credit card debt, Hawaii's delinquency rate — the ratio of bank-issued card borrowers 90 days or more delinquent on one or more of their credit cards — ranked below the national average of 1.1 percent. Hawaii's delinquency rate was 0.89 percent in the third quarter, down 2.2 percent from 0.91 percent in the second quarter but up 2.3 percent from 0.87 percent in the third quarter of 2008.

Nationwide, consumers continued to take control of their debt as the delinquency rate on credit cards headed downward toward 1 percent.

Customers making late payments on bank-issued cards like those bearing MasterCard and Visa logos fell to 1.1 percent for the June-to-September period, down 5.98 percent from the previous quarter.

The decline is significant not just for its size, but also for its timing, since delinquency rates usually rise in the third quarter from the prior period, said Ezra Becker, of TransUnion's financial services group. Taken together with the more than 11 percent decline seen between the first and second quarters, the results indicate that consumers are getting better at handling their debt.

In contrast with where consumers stood one year ago, the third-quarter delinquency rate was basically flat with the 2008 third quarter, when 1.09 percent of card payments were 90 days or more past due. TransUnion measures credit card delinquencies at 90 days because three months is considered an indicator that the card holder will default, since it is difficult to make up that many missed payments.

Credit card delinquencies were highest in Nevada (1.98 percent), Florida (1.47 percent), Arizona (1.35 percent) and California (1.33 percent), the states hardest hit by the housing crisis. Rates were lowest in North Dakota (0.66 percent) and South Dakota (0.70 percent).

TransUnion figures showed the average balance on outstanding bank cards drifted down to $5,612 from the previous quarter's $5,719, and from $5,710 in the 2008 third quarter.

One reason for consumers to pay more attention to their credit cards was worry over potential job losses, as the unemployment rate climbed toward double digits during the third quarter. It reached 10.2 percent last month.

Becker said cutbacks in credit availability and higher interest rates also played a role in cutting the delinquency rate. While the fear of having cards shut down and anger over the moves banks have made can't be easily measured, there's anecdotal evidence that those emotions played into the improvement as well.

TransUnion's statistics are culled from approximately 27 million anonymous, randomly sampled individual credit files.


Star-Bulletin reporter Dave Segal and Eileen AJ Connelly of the Associated Press contributed to this story.