By Dave Clarke
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More consumers had trouble making payments on credit cards and other debts during the first three months of the year due to higher food and gas prices, an industry report said on Thursday.
The American Bankers Association said the data showed a downturn from prior quarters and described the most recent quarter as a "soft patch."
"Consumers are feeling insecure about the economy and whether their financial resources can carry them through until conditions improve," ABA chief economist James Chessen said in a statement.
"With a slow-growing economy and weak job growth, there will continue to be financial stress that will make it hard for some people to pay their bills on time."
The delinquency rate on credit cards issued by banks increased to 3.4 percent in the first quarter from 3.28 percent in the previous three months.
The ABA defines a delinquency as a payment that is 30 days or more overdue.
A broader measure of consumer delinquencies that includes payments on auto and home equity loans also ticked up.
This delinquency measure increased to 2.71 percent in the first quarter from 2.68 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Delinquencies did decline in some categories.
For instance, the rate on property improvement loans fell to 1.02 percent in the first quarter from 1.26 percent during the previous period.
The ABA tracks late payments for bank-provided credit cards, auto loans, home equity lines of credit, and other consumer loans.
Consumers are having an easier time making payments on these bills than they were a year ago but the report illustrates the impact of the weak economic recovery and continued high unemployment.
The economy grew by an anemic 1.8 percent annualized rate in the first quarter and unemployment stands at 9.1 percent.
Significant policies aimed at creating jobs or growing the economy are unlikely to come out of Washington before the 2012 elections due to differences between President Obama and congressional Republicans.
Both parties are currently engaged in a tense battle over what deficit reduction plans should be part of a deal to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, which the administration estimates will be hit on August 2.
Until the economy begins growing more quickly, the ABA said it does not expect the consumer delinquency numbers to change much.
"Until the economy shifts up a gear, employment improves, and food and gas prices stabilize, some people will struggle to make ends meet," Chessen said.
(Reporting by Dave Clarke; Editing by Gary Hill)