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Credit card debt on rise in isles

But consumers are efficient in paying off their average $5,716 debt load

By Dave Segal

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Hawaii consumers rack up a lot of credit card debt but tend to be good at paying it off.

That's according to a survey released yesterday by the credit bureau TransUnion.

Hawaii consumers had the second-highest credit card debt in the nation in the third quarter, according to the survey.

Spending by plastic

How Hawaii ranks among states and Washington, D.C., in various credit card categories*:
» Credit card debt: Highest -- 1. Alaska $7,159. 2. Hawaii $5,716. 3. North Carolina $5,640. (U.S. $4,964). Lowest -- 51. Iowa $3,807. 50. North Dakota $4,103. 49. South Dakota $4,196
» Credit card delinquency: Highest -- 1. Nevada 1.28%. 2. Florida 1.09%. 3. Mississippi 1.06%. Lowest -- 1. North Dakota 0.48%. 2. South Dakota 0.53%. 3. Nebraska 0.56%. 8. Hawaii 0.65%
*Over second quarter of 2010
Source: TransUnion
But when it comes to monthly payments, Hawaii cardholders do well, ranking in the top 10 on the list of states with the fewest delinquencies.

The average credit card debt in Hawaii was $5,716 last quarter, 2.19 percent higher than the second quarter when it was $5,594, according to TransUnion, one of three major credit bureaus along with Equifax and Experian. The increase was the third highest among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

But Hawaii ranked eighth out of 51 for having the lowest delinquency level at 0.65 percent, a 13.33 percent improvement from 0.75 percent in the second quarter.

Year over year, Hawaii's average credit card debt fell 4.76 percent from $6,022 in the third quarter of 2009.

"Having credit card debt does not necessarily mean a bad thing if you manage the credit card and make regular payments," TransUnion spokesman Clifton O'Neal said. "It can be a good thing for credit history and credit scores."

O'Neal said credit card debt is cyclical in nature. It rises in the third quarter because of expenses associated with summer vacation and back-to-school purchases, and during the first and second quarter, it tends to go down because year-end bonuses and income tax refunds allow consumers to pay down debt, O'Neal said.

Alaska had the highest average credit card debt at $7,159, while Iowa had the lowest at $3,807. The national average was $4,964.

West Virginia had the largest increase over the previous quarter at 2.81 percent, while Oklahoma had the best improvement as its credit card debt contracted 1.79 percent.

Nevada, which has the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, not surprisingly also had the highest incidence of credit card delinquency at 1.28 percent, while the lowest number of credit card delinquencies was North Dakota at 0.48 percent.

"Hawaii is actually doing very good when it comes to delinquencies," O'Neal said. "They're one of the lowest states (at eighth place) in the nation in managing their delinquency payments. That's very positive, and it just shows that Hawaiians understand the need to maintain a positive relationship with their credit card providers."

O'Neal said it's understandable that credit card debt would be high in Hawaii because of the higher cost of living.

"People in Hawaii also tend to buy more things online and have them shipped to them, and they may put more things on cards than those in the 48 contiguous states," O'Neal said.

TransUnion, which culled its data from 27 million anonymous consumer records randomly selected from its database, estimated that 8 million consumers stopped actively using bank-issued, general-purpose credit cards over the past year.






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