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Cautious UK spenders reach two-year low in overlimit cards

FICO today released its quarterly UK cards data showing that the percentage of cards that are overlimit hit a two-year low. The latest data from the FICO Benchmark Reporting Service showed that student, premium, Euro (Irish) and classic accounts were all lower than at any point since March 2011. Overlimit accounts among classic cards were at their lowest level — just over 2% of cards — since FICO began benchmarking performance in 2002.

image-2‘This positive performance may seem surprising when the economy is struggling, but it reflects a number of factors,” said Nigel Brayne, senior director of Global Business Consulting at FICO. ‘First, many people have erratic cash flow and need their cards more than ever, so they are being careful to avoid overextending themselves, or risking fees. Second, some card issuers are beginning to make pre-collections contact with customers, which can help cardholders avoid running up troublesome debt levels. And third, despite the reductions in credit limits a few years ago, cardholders appear to have high enough limits that they can avoid going overlimit.”

FICO’s card benchmarking data also exposed a big difference in payments-to-balance ratios for older card accounts and newer ones. The percentage of balance paid reached a three-year high last quarter for ‘veteran” accounts open for more than five years  (26 percent in January) and ‘established” accounts open for one to five years (30 percent in February). However, the same measure reached a two-year low in March for new accounts (just under 14 percent). In fact, payments-to-balance for card accounts open for less than 12 months has dropped by 13 percent since March 2011 and by 30 percent since March 2010.

Similarly, the utilization percentage on new card accounts was at its highest level since the third quarter of 2008. By contrast, utilization percentage on established and veteran accounts continued to fall, and for established accounts hit its lowest level since the first quarter of 2002. This also suggests that established cardholders have high enough limits to support their spending.

‘New card accounts have payment trends that indicate higher risk,” said Brayne. ‘We are warning our card issuing clients to review their approval criteria, and to monitor these newer accounts more closely for signs of payment difficulties.”

Card issuers also watched the post-Christmas payment trends carefully. While the percentage of accounts that are two cycles delinquent rose in January for classic cards, the percentage then fell in February and March. ‘Last year it took longer for the delinquent accounts to stabilize,” Brayne said. ‘This implies that cardholders are paying off their seasonal spending quicker.”

The card performance figures are part of the data shared with subscribers of the FICO Benchmark Reporting Service, which compares overall market performance in the UK cards market with individual card issuers’ performance. The data sample studied represents 26 million accounts, or about half of all credit cards issued in the UK, and comes from client reports generated by the FICO TRIAD Customer Manager solution in use by most UK card issuers.

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