Target's unpaid credit card debt grows

  • Article by: CHRIS SERRES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 21, 2009 - 8:41 PM

More of Target Corporation's credit card debt is going unpaid, leaving the retailer with uncomfortably high write-off rates.

The Minneapolis-based discount retailer reported Wednesday that credit card receivables written off as uncollectible, as an annualized percentage of total loans, rose to 12.28 percent in January, up from 11 percent in December and 6.84 percent a year earlier.

However, a spike in January charge-offs is not necessarily indicative of a trend. That's because credit card charge-offs typically spike after the New Year, as consumers who overspent during the holidays fall behind on their bills.

William Ryan of Portales Partners said the pace of charge-offs is likely to decelerate in the coming months, as the retailer begins to feel the positive effect of changes it made last year. They include beginning to reduce credit lines on some cards and tighten some underwriting standards, which should mean lower write-offs in the months ahead, he said.

But Ryan said the deepening recession and rising unemployment still may keep write-offs above 12 percent of total loans -- a charge-off rate that is more than double that of some large credit card companies and high for Target. And the retailer is still feeling the effects of being too permissive with credit before the recession hit, which led to a dramatic increase in the size of Target's credit card portfolio.

As of Wednesday, Target had $9.27 billion in credit card receivables, up from $8.66 billion a year earlier.

"A lot of what was going bad has already gone bad" in Target's credit card portfolio, Ryan said. "But I don't think they're going back to 6 or 7 percent [write-downs to loans] any time soon."

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308

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