During the second quarter ended June 30, the ratio of bankcard borrowers 90 days or more delinquent on one or more of their credit cards was 0.92%, down 19 basis points from 1.11% the previous quarter and down 25 basis points from 1.17% in the second quarter of 2009, according to TransUnion.

But it is not the numbers that tell the story, says Ezra Becker, director of consulting and strategy in TransUnion’s financial services business unit. It is the behavior behind it that may reshape the credit landscape in the U.S.

“What is most telling is that delinquencies throughout this recession have been very well controlled,” Becker tells PaymentsSource, a Collections & Credit Risk sister publication. The fact that consumers continue to pay down debt on cards in favor paying down their mortgages is a huge factor in why delinquencies are controlled, he says.

As unemployment increased to upward of 9% or more in most areas and as home values continue to decrease, consumers are finding that the credit card relationship is the most important debt relationship to maintain, Becker says. That is mainly because consumers are able to use cards for essentials in tough times, but they could not rely on home equity lines of credit because those products have gone away.

“Consumers are increasingly placing more value on the card relationship because everyone has seen credit diminish in terms of limits dropping, interest rates rising and cards not being renewed,” says Becker.

“Consumers priorities have changed,” says Becker. “Cards are no longer being used for luxury items; they are being used to buy necessities.”

But whether this is a short-term reaction to the recession or an indication of how consumers relate to credit relationships remains to be seen, Becker says. “Time will tell,” he says, noting the last recession in the early 2000s was followed by several years of excessive spending.

“U.S. consumers have short memories,” Becker says.

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