Unlike in 2008, U.S. consumers’ credit card bills took priority over mortgage payments and other debts, according to survey data Auriemma Consulting Group released recently. In the consulting firm’s latest edition of Cardbeat, Editor Nancy Stahl contends credit cards rose in consumers’ payment hierarchies because card issuers tightened their underwriting rules while mortgage foreclosures became commonplace, “swaying borrowers toward the conclusion that it’s more important to be current on their credit card than on their mortgage.”

Auriemma in October surveyed 430 credit card users and compared the results with a similar survey of 501 card users it conducted in June 2008. Asked to rank the order in which they would pay off 10 different types of loans, respondents this year ranked their most frequently used credit card first, up from fourth a year ago.

After paying their credit card, respondents this year said they would pay in descending order their mortgage, their car loan, a personal loan, a personal line of credit, a secondary credit card, a home equity loan, and a home equity line of credit. Last year respondents said they would pay their mortgage first, followed by their car loan, a home-equity loan, their primary credit card, a home equity line of credit, a personal loan, a personal line of credit and a secondary credit card. In both surveys, private-label credit card and student-loan payments ranked ninth and 10th respectively.

Credit cards rose to the top of consumers’ payment hierarchies because revolving credit is enabling many consumers to cope with the uncertain economy, Stahl suggests. “Cash-strapped consumers view their credit cards as their lifeline necessary for juggling daily living expenses,” she wrote.

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