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SAO PAULO, Jan 21 (Reuters) - A record 59 million Brazilians were behind in payment of utility bills, or had defaulted loans and bounced checks at the end of last year, as rising unemployment and borrowing costs hurt their ability to stay current on their obligations, credit research company Serasa Experian said on Thursday.
Consumers in Latin America's largest economy said joblessness was the main reason behind their defaults, followed by poor financial discipline and a strain in household income, Serasa said in a report.
The number of delinquent consumers in Brazil was 54.1 million in 2014, the report said.
At the end of last year, individuals owed an estimated 255 billion reais ($61 billion) to utility, banking and other services companies, Serasa said. The number jumped 16 percent from about 219 billion reais estimated in 2014, Serasa said.
Economists expect the Brazilian economy to shrink again this year, which might be the first back-to-back annual contractions since the 1930s. That is making it harder for factories, farmers and individuals to repay loans, driving up delinquencies, unpaid utility bills and bounced checks.
Households are also grappling with accelerating inflation - which topped 10 percent last year - and large job losses, testing the ability of consumers to keep up with their financial obligations, Serasa said. (Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Bernadette Baum)