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TransUnion predicts by the end of 2012, just 0.69 percent of cards will be considered delinquent, down from a predicted 0.74 percent in the current quarter. The rate has wobbled in the last few years, peaking at 1.36 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007, then dropping and bouncing back up to 1.32 percent in the first quarter of 2009.

The figures reflect a shift in which debt payments consumers consider most important, largely because home prices fell so far.

Chaouki said the conventional wisdom before the Great Recession was that homeowners would put their mortgages first because of concern about their reputation and the emotional attachment involved in owning a home. But what has become clear as housing prices have continued to fall, he said, is that bill payment is far more practical.

“People were protecting their home equity,” he said. Credit cards were relatively easy to come by in years past, he said, so when money got tight, it was an easy decision to default on cards and maintain house payments. Now it’s common to owe more on a mortgage than a house is actually worth, but credit cards are harder to get. So consumers are being practical and protecting what is more valuable to them.

He said he expects the equation will shift again if housing prices rebound and people go back to building home equity.