Consumers fell behind on loan payments in a number of categories in the third quarter, according to the latest numbers from the American Bankers Association.

The bankers blamed much of the decline on problems caused by higher oil prices and slumping home values.

Delinquencies for home equity lines of credit the lowest delinquency rate category rose seven basis points to 0.84 percent. Delinquencies for closed-end home equity loans rose 29 basis points to 2.28 percent and property improvement loan delinquencies went up 14 basis points to 1.60 percent.

The number of delinquent accounts in the composite ratio, which tracks eight closed-end installment loan categories, increased 17 basis points to 2.44 percent.

The lone bright spot was credit card delinquencies, which fell 21 basis points to 4.18 percent of accounts in the third quarter (seasonally adjusted). The ABA report defines late payments as 30 days or more overdue.

"Credit card holders continued to improve on-time payments during the third quarter despite obvious stress in the housing market," said James Chessen, ABA chief economist. "Modest income and job growth helped ease consumers' financial stress even as they worried how to pay for the rising costs of gas, food, and energy."

The fact that credit card repayment rates continue to improve as mortgage repayments worsen may seem contrary to conventional wisdom, Chessen said.

"Consumers facing mortgage resets may be under financial pressure, but they still want to keep up with other payments," Chessen said. "They still need to heat their homes, put food on the table and fill their cars with gas."

"Consumer loans directly related to the housing market were hit the hardest," Chessen said. "We anticipate delinquency rates will continue to rise on these types of loans in the fourth quarter of 2007 reflecting continued weakness in the housing sector."

Get help fast

"Any borrower experiencing financial stress should seek out their lender promptly as it's important to address the problem early when more options for help are likely to be available," Chessen recommended.

ABA advises consumers to review their finances often and watch for the warning signs of overextended credit:

• Paying only the minimum payment month after month;

• Being out of cash constantly;

• Being late on important payments such as rent or mortgage;

• Taking longer and longer to pay off balances; and

• Borrowing from one lender to pay another.

For others having trouble paying down debts, ABA advises consumers to take action - sooner rather than later - to solve debt problems with the following tips:

• Talk with creditors hiding only makes the problem worse;

• Don't charge more purchases until your problems are solved;

• Avoid bankruptcy it's a short-term solution with long-term consequences; and

• Contact Consumer Credit Counseling Services at 1-800-388-2227.