Hawaii consumers carried the nation’s third-highest credit card debt per person in the first quarter, though fewer people were delinquent on payments than the previous year.
A report released Monday by TransUnion, one of the country’s three largest credit bureaus, showed the average isle credit card holder racked up $5,303 in credit card charges at the end of the quarter. Alaska had the highest debt at $6,811, followed by North Carolina at $5,446. Hawaii’s average debt fell 9 percent from $5,831 a year ago. The national average was $4,679, the lowest since the third quarter of 2000.
Much of the debt is attributed to the cost of food, fuel and housing here, which is often higher than in most parts of the country because of geographic isolation and limited resources.
"Everything’s more expensive in Hawaii because everything has to be shipped out there," said Clifton O’Neal, a TransUnion spokesman. "You have to look at geographical elements when looking at this type of debt."
Where Hawaii ranks among states and Washington, D.C., in first-quarter credit card debt and delinquency:
* The ratio of bank card borrowers 90 days or more delinquent on one or more of their bank-issued credit cards
On a brighter note, Hawaii 90-day delinquencies, or roughly four missed payments, dropped to 0.63 percent from 0.9 percent a year earlier, the data showed. The delinquency rate — the ratio of bank-card borrowers 90 days or more delinquent on one or more of their bank-issued credit cards — were the highest in Nevada at 1.16 percent and the lowest in North Dakota at 0.36 percent. The national delinquency rate was 0.74 percent.
"In Hawaii, delinquencies are significantly lower than the rest of U.S.," said Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting in TransUnion’s financial services business unit. "Delinquencies have really been well controlled. Consumers have been acting aggressively to manage the health of card relationships."
Nationally, delinquencies fell to the lowest level reached since the third quarter of 1996, when it was 0.76 percent.
Consumers are continuing a trend of paying their credit cards before or in lieu of their mortgages to ensure their access to liquidity as the economy slowly recovers, Becker said.
"If there’s a choice of charging up credit cards rather than going hungry or not buying children school supplies, by all means people should use credit," he said. "If used wisely, credit is a wonderful tool."
TransUnion’s data consist of 27 million anonymous consumer records randomly sampled every quarter from its national consumer credit database.