WASHINGTON, D.C. — Job losses continued to hurt consumer finances during the fourth quarter of 2008, which is reflected in the rising delinquencies in almost every loan category, including auto loans.

In fact, indirect auto loan delinquencies climbed from 3.25 percent to 3.53 percent, according to the American Bankers Association's Consumer Credit Delinquency Bulletin.

Meanwhile, direct auto loan delinquencies increased from 1.71 percent to 2.03 percent.

The composite ratio, which tracks eight closed-end installment loan categories, rose 32 basis points to a record 3.22 percent of accounts (seasonally adjusted), the association reported.

James Chessen, ABA chief economist, said the figures are the latest sign that the U.S. economy is experiencing the worst recession since the mid 1970s.

"The wheels just fell off the economy in the fourth quarter of 2008," Chessen said. "The amount of job losses dealt the economy a severe shock, and that continues to be the biggest driver for delinquencies."

The U.S. economy lost nearly 3 million jobs in 2008, with nearly 2 million of them occurring in the fourth quarter. 

"As the economy continues to shed jobs, it is unlikely that delinquencies will see any improvements this year," Chessen added.

Home equity loan delinquencies rose 40 basis points to 3.03 percent of accounts, setting a new record. Also, home equity lines of credit delinquencies reached a new record, rising 31 basis points to 1.46 percent. 

Every category saw rising delinquencies except mobile home loans. The ABA report defines a delinquency as a late payment that is 30 days or more overdue.

"Clearly, we are seeing a rapid economic decline in all regions and in most business sectors," Chessen said. "It's a steeper downslide than in previous recessions because consumers are saving more and spending less."

Credit card delinquencies increased from 4.20 percent to 4.52 percent, but still remain near the four year average of 4.47 percent. 

Chessen noted that the ability of card holders to adjust their monthly payments, unlike other loans with fixed payments, has helped keep credit card delinquencies relatively stable.

The ABA's overall findings also include:

—Property-improvement loan delinquencies increased from 1.63 percent to 1.75 percent.

—Marine loan delinquencies grew from 1.82 percent to 2.35 percent.

—RV loan delinquencies were up from 1.27 percent to 1.38 percent.

—Mobile home delinquencies decreased from 3.08 percent to 2.96 percent.

—Personal loan delinquencies inched up from 2.69 percent to 2.88 percent.