Discover late payments, defaults fall in March

By Associated Press
Posted Monday at 10:22 a.m.

Discover Card customers improved their payment habits in March, as late payments and defaults both fell to their lowest rate in more than two years.

Discover Financial Services said in a regulatory filing Friday that it wrote off $83.1 million, or 5.18 percent of balances at an annualized rate, as uncollectible in March. That was down from $88.2 million, or 5.79 percent of balances in February.

Card companies typically write off loans after they’re 180 days past due.

The last time Discover’s rate of default, or charge-off, was that low was February 2008, when it was 4.81 percent.

The March decline followed a slight uptick in February for the credit card company based in Riverwoods, Ill. Discover charge-offs were at their highest in February 2010, at 9.11 percent.

The rate of late payments also fell.

Payments late by 30 days or more, known in the industry as the delinquency rate, dropped to 3.42 percent in March, from 3.7 percent in February.

Discover’s delinquency rate hadn’t been below 4 percent since June 2008, when it was 3.98 percent.

Delinquency is considered an indicator for what to expect for charge-offs in coming months.

Industrywide, the charge-off rate peaked in the 2010 second quarter at 10.9 percent of balances, according to the Federal Reserve. By the fourth quarter of 2010, the latest period for which data is available, the rate had dropped to 7.7 percent.

In the two years prior to the recession, it averaged 3.82 percent.

Credit card users have gotten a handle on their credit card debt in the past year: late payments and defaults have steadily declined, along with outstanding balances.

In February, total revolving debt held by U.S. consumers — which is mostly credit cards — fell to $794.03 billion, its lowest point since September 2004, Fed data show. In August 2008, total credit card debt topped out at $973.64 billion.

In afternoon trading, Discover shares added 39 cents, to $24.34.

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