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The amount of new credit cards opened nationwide increased considerably on a year-over-year basis in 2011, as lending to subprime borrowers continued to expand.

The total number of new credit cards issued in the U.S. last year rose by more than 20 percent from the amount seen in 2010, driven largely by continued extension of new accounts to borrowers with subprime credit ratings, according to the latest data from the credit reporting bureau TransUnion. In all, 24.2 percent of new credit cards were issued to consumers with low credit ratings in 2011, up from the 21.8 percent seen the year prior. And though that number fell slightly in the first quarter of 2012 - to 24.1 percent - the trend seems likely to continue.

However, there was also a greater demand seen among borrowers with good and even excellent credit ratings, the report said. This indicates that consumers in general, regardless of their financial standing, are now more interested in increasing their credit card use.

"The good news is that increased lending, particularly to non-prime borrowers, hasn't affected delinquency rates, which have remained unchanged over the past year," said Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting in TransUnion's financial services business unit. "Bank cards are one of the most important assets for consumers, and it is evident consumers have been working hard to stay current on their cards and to maintain access to this important financial tool."

Indeed, credit card delinquency - defined by the credit bureau as being accounts that have gone 90 days or more without payment - slipped for the first time in two quarters in the first three months of the year, falling to 0.73 percent of all accounts, from 0.79 percent in the final quarter last year, the report said. And at the same time, consumers were able to successfully reduce the amount they owed on their credit card balances by $242 from one quarter to the next, dropping the average consumer's outstanding balances to $4,962.

Consumers have been more eager to open new credit card accounts in the last several months, as economic conditions continue to improve and more people find themselves on a better financial footing. Lenders have also taken advantage of this trend by marketing heavily to subprime consumers in recent months.