The credit card charge-off rate rose again in March, reaching a point that is “at or near a peak,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a report this week.

Chargeoffs reached 11.21% of overall credit card outstandings in March, up 13 basis points from 11.08% in February and up 191 basis points from 9.3% during March 2009. The average charge-off rate for the three-month period ended March 31 was 11.12%, the highest quarterly rate since Moody’s began tracking credit card chargeoffs in April 1989.

The delinquency rate for card accounts more than 30 days overdue fell in March for the fifth consecutive month, to 5.79%, a trend Moody’s expects to continue.

“We expect seasonal trends and a nascent consumer recovery to result in lower delinquency rates, which should lead to lower charge-off rates in the months ahead,” Moody’s said in an April 21 report.

Credit card accountholders are repaying outstanding balances at a faster rate than last year, the firm also noted. “Cardholder payment rates continued to improve [in March], another positive indicator of cardholders’ means to repay balances,” the report stated.

Moody’s expects unemployment rates to plateau during the second half of this year at between 10% and 10.5%.

Given its forecast and the expected improving trajectory for delinquencies, Moody’s said it believes the first quarter of 2010 “marks the peak of the quarterly charge-off rate” for the current economic cycle, which began in fall 2008 when chargeoffs rose sharply and continued rising.

Moody’s expects “the possibility of the monthly rate peaking either this month or next.”

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