As more people struggle under credit card debt, many banks are intensifying their collection efforts, the Wall Street Journal reported recently. Citigroup Inc. has hired more collectors, increased the frequency of calls to delinquent customers and expanded programs that let borrowers temporarily postpone payments or settle debt for less than the borrowers owe.

Bank of America Corp., meanwhile, is contacting late-paying customers earlier than it has in the past. The moves come at a time when rising unemployment and a credit crunch are forcing more consumers to default on their credit card payments.

The percentage of bank credit card accounts that are delinquent rose to 4.51 percent in the first quarter — the latest available — from 4.41 percent in the year-earlier quarter, according to the American Bankers Association. Banks reported increases in delinquency rates in their second-quarter earnings reports, and they expect the problems to get worse.

Banks are under tremendous pressure to shore up their balance sheets amid an onslaught of bad loans and mortgages. Financial institutions are responding by working past-due accounts more aggressively. They are putting their best collectors on their toughest-to-collect accounts (those that are at least 60 or 90 days past due), hiring outsourcing firms to supplement their internal efforts and putting new hires on accounts that are in the early stages of delinquencies, according to experts.