Fueled by increased consumer spending that is improving businesses’ balance sheets, a key measure of business health improved during the first quarter of 2012, according to a new report.

Experian Information Solutions, Inc., Costa Mesa, Calif., and Moody’s Analytics Inc., New York, published this finding in a report that provides insight into the health of U.S. small businesses. The new Experian/Moody’s Analytics Small Business Credit is released quarterly to show fluctuations in the market and explore factors that are impacting the business economy.

The Experian/Moody’s Small Business Credit Index rose in the first quarter of 2012 to 103.2, up from 101.9. Experian says this is the second consecutive quarterly improvement, after the index fell last year.

Overdue balances have fallen 6.5% since last July, the report notes. After rising during the latter part of last year, the 30-day delinquency rate improved “significantly” during the quarter past, falling 0.8% to 1.8%. The 60-day delinquency rate also receded, albeit more slowly than the 30-day rate.

The average commercial risk score in March 2012 was 57.3, holding stable over the first quarter and improving 4.8% on a year-ago basis, the report says. Businesses with more than 1,000 employees experienced the greatest improvements in their scores over the quarter, posting a gain of 3.9%.

Year over year, businesses employing fewer than 9 workers saw the greatest improvement, adding 5.7%.

The report observes, however, that the “severely delinquent bucket” experienced a nearly 20% run-up since September 2010. Businesses at least 60 days behind on their payments appear to be struggling to pay off balances, spilling into the severely delinquent bucket.

Overdue balances have come down in “fits and starts,” falling nearly 9% from January 2010 to March 2011 before reversing course in the second quarter of last year. Balances spiked more than 6% between March and June 2011, before resuming a steady decline, which has remained intact to the present, the report says.