Loan originations continue to grow in several categories, especially to subprime credit card customers, new data show.

For bank credit card issuers, lending to subprime customers increased 41% in 2011 from the previous year. Subprime borrowing hit a four-year high in December with 1.1 million new bank credit cards issued, according to a National Consumer Credit Trends Report produced by Equifax and is a joint venture of Equifax and Moody's Analytics.

Subprime borrowers represented more than 46% of the market in auto financing last year, and they totaled 31% of 2011 retail credit card originations, Equifax said March 29.

Credit in general expanded as lenders more aggressively sought new customers.

New credit in 2011 totaled $782 billion, which was below prerecession levels but more than 10% higher than 2009 and 2010.

Consumers opened 39.9 million bank card accounts in 2011, 18% more than the previous year and the highest total since 2008.

Total consumer debt in the U.S. was $11 trillion as of last month, an 11% drop from its peak in the fourth quarter of 2008. An almost 12% dip in home-financing balances drove the decline.

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