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The new frugality: Americans reduce late credit card payments

Person pulls debit or credit card from wallet.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: What seems like encouraging news today on the state of personal finances. The level of credit card payments that were 90 days or more past due dropped to a 17-year low. That's out today.

Well, Marketplace Senior Business Correspondent Bob Moon is with us live in our Los Angeles studio with the latest. Good morning, Bob.

BOB MOON: Hey, Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: Seems like a real bright spot. Given these hard times, I mean, how did we get ahead of our credit card debt?

MOON: It's a combination of factors according to some experts I talked with this morning. We Americans have cut back on the number of cards in our wallets. We're more often paying as we go with debit cards. And, of course, the banks have tightened their credit standards. On the other hand, I talked this morning to Bankrate.com analyst Greg McBride, and he cautions that this isn't the "all clear" signal on our overall debt. He reminded me that people tend to pay off their credit cards first.

GREG MCBRIDE: Credit cards offer more payment flexibility than any of the other obligations, which helps them stay current on a credit card when they may be behind on a larger monthly payment like a mortgage or an auto loan.

CHIOTAKIS: All right, so we're paying of our debt, then. Will that maybe spur some consumer spending?

MOON: The experts I've spoken to this morning don't sound all that optimistic about that. Greg McBride says the hub on the wheel is jobs. And if anything, analyst Nancy Bush at NAB Research says the shock of the last few weeks isn't helping with that

NANCY BUSH: You know, if you're not sure you're going to have a job in another year, then you probably are not going to go out and, you know, go "whoo hoo" and spend a lot on your credit card.

MOON: Whoo hoo. So look for Americans to stay tightfisted, Steve. TransUnion, the credit reporting company that issued the new report,says it expects the delinquency rate to continue drifting lower.

CHIOTAKIS: All right, Marketplace's Bob Moon in our studio. Thanks.

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