The amount of new credit card limits opened in the first three quarters of 2012 hit $675 billion, up from $523 billion during the same period in 2010, according to Equifax's latest National Consumer Credit Trends Report.

The report also shows that those new limits represent less than a third of all outstanding balances. Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts hailed the data as a sign that consumers are using credit cards responsibly, even as banks loosen some of their underwriting guidelines.

Originations remain about one third lower than their pre-recession peak, leading Cutts to suggest that the "consumer-led recovery" is working - although Americans still need more time to fully regain the ground they lost in 2008.

Retail credit cards supported most of the gains last year, but bank credit cards also saw a larger percentage increase in the past two years.

Retailers and issuing partners opened up $47.5 billion in new credit through November, a 17 percent jump from 2010's report. With more than $132 billion in new credit limits through the end of September, bank credit cards jumped 44 percent from the low point of the recession.

Credit utilization remains low across most bank credit card accounts. Consumers used only 22 percent of their available limits, Equifax reports. During the same period, year-over-year write-off rates dropped another 20 percent, demonstrating a cultural shift to using cash and preserving credit. The number of active credit cards stabilized among the 300 million mark, but banks have yet to see a downward swing in portfolio quality, according to Equifax.

Equifax also noted that new auto loans hit a five-year high in September, reflecting an improvement economists have seen in unsecured borrowing.

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