The credit card delinquency rate - the ratio of borrowers 90 or more days past due - fell to 0.69% in the first quarter ended March 31 from 0.73% in the year-ago period, according to credit bureau TransUnion.
The rate saw a steep 18.8% seasonal decline from the end of 2012, when it reached 0.85%. Average credit card debt per borrower dropped 1.7% to $4,878 in the first quarter from $4,962 in the year-ago period, according to TransUnion's report. On a quarterly basis, card debt fell 4.8% from $5,122 in the fourth quarter.
Since the start of the recession in late 2007, the credit card delinquency rate fell five out of six first quarters on a quarterly basis. The average first-quarter decline for that timeframe has been 7.2%.
Twelve states saw their delinquency rates rise year over year, with Massachusetts and North Dakota the only states to experience double-digit basis point increases.
Sixty-five percent of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) experienced declines in their delinquency rates in the first quarter relative to a year ago. That is improved from the previous quarter, when only 33% of MSAs saw year-over-year drops. Some MSAs experiencing the largest year-over-year decreases in the first quarter included: Seattle (28.1% decline to 0.41%), Denver (26.9% decline to 0.49%) and Salt Lake City (22.6% decline to 0.48%).
The TransUnion quarterly analysis of credit card performance also examines origination rates, which are evaluated one quarter in arrears to account for the reporting lag of new accounts.
In the fourth quarter, new credit card originations dropped 1.6% relative to fourth quarter 2011 (to 7.57 million from 7.70 million accounts). The share of non-prime, higher-risk originations (with a VantageScore 2.0 credit score lower than 700 on a scale of 501-990) was 28.14% in the fourth quarter, slightly below 28.38% in the fourth quarter 2011, but higher than the 27.72% in the fourth quarter 2010.
"Though fourth-quarter credit card originations had dropped compared to the prior year, the number of new credit cards entering the marketplace is still significantly greater than what we saw just a few years ago," said Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting in TransUnion's financial services business unit.
TransUnion forecasts credit card delinquencies to increase slightly to roughly 0.71% in the second quarter, based on current economic assumptions.
"We traditionally see credit card delinquencies and balances decline during the first three months of the year as many people pay down their holiday shopping balances or use their tax refunds to pay off their debts," added Becker.