* US bankruptcies may fall below last year’s 1.53 mln
* Consumer credit outstanding declines, Fed says
NEW YORK, April 4 (Reuters) - The number of U.S. consumer bankruptcies fell 6 percent in the first quarter, a sign that Americans may be doing a better job handling their debts as the economy grows.
There were 340,012 consumer bankruptcy filings from January to March, down from 363,215 a year earlier, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute, citing data from the National Bankruptcy Research Center.
In March, there were 144,657 filings, up 41 percent from February’s total of 102,686, but down 3 percent from the 149,268 recorded last March.
ABI Executive Director Samuel Gerdano projected that the number of filings this year will be lower than the 1.53 million recorded in 2010.
Last year’s total was the highest since the 2.04 million recorded in 2005, when consumers rushed to seek protection from creditors ahead of a stricter federal bankruptcy law taking effect in October of that year.
U.S. consumer credit outstanding has fallen to $2.41 trillion in January from $2.57 trillion two years earlier, Federal Reserve data show. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)