Target Corp.'s credit card holders continue to struggle making their payments, according to data released by the retailer Tuesday.
Target's delinquency rate rose for a fifth straight month in November to 9.39 percent. That rate represents $750 million in payments at least 30 days past due.
The results come as Target, along with other credit card companies, tightened access to credit. The company's $7.9 billion in credit card receivables declined about $8.4 million during the month. By year's end, the retailer expects receivables to decline by about $1 billion compared to a year ago.
The Minneapolis-based retailer wrote off $97.1 million in bad credit loans in November, about 10 percent higher than October, and in line with the company's expectations of $300 million for the fourth quarter.
Other credit card issuers are seeing increases in unpaid bills, though the pace of Target's delinquencies and write-offs is increasing at a faster clip than the average at Citibank, Discover, American Express and other credit card companies, according to a report from Mark Miller of William Blair & Co.
Since November's delinquencies represent purchases made months ago, it is difficult to predict how many of Target's 31.7 million credit card holders may have overspent their budgets this holiday season and how that might affect Target's still-profitable credit card portfolio.
In what could be a hopeful sign, early stage delinquencies -- card holders who have missed just two payments -- declined 1.3 percent to $225.6 million. Early stage delinquencies signal likely write-offs that the retailer will be unable to collect in the next six months.
Rewards program in testing
Company executives said in a third-quarter earnings call in November that Target is looking at "other possible innovations" in its credit card programs "to drive future performance."
Among the initiatives, Target began testing a change to its credit card rewards program in San Antonio, Texas, and Kansas City, Mo., in October.
Shoppers in those markets are eligible to get 3 or 5 percent off of their purchase at the cash register, instead of the current program in which card holders earn points toward a 10 percent-off coupon to be redeemed later.
Target said it has been encouraged by the response to date.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335