Consumers are being more cautious in their use of credit cards — accounts are growing, and overall their balances are down 28% from their peak in January 2009, according to a report from Equifax.

The report, released May 24, indicates that the number of retail card accounts has grown 4.7% since December 2010. In February 2012, there was a 37% increase in the number of new bank cards issued compared to the same month a year earlier.

"Ironically, credit card spending is actually up pretty strongly, but consumers are paying it off," Ken Paterson, vice president of research operations at Mercator Advisory Group, tells PaymentsSource.

This can be seen as a sign of strength in the accounts that remain active after the recession forced many to be closed and charged off, but it is not indicative of the overall health of consumer finance.

"The other side of the coin here is, we know non-revolving credit has been increasing at a much higher rate," Paterson says. "That's mostly auto loans and student loans. While the credit cards side looks healthier and more sustainable, the other side of the consumer balance sheet is weighted down more if you're holding a student loan."

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