Year to date, loan growth at credit unions is now stronger than all of 2009, 2010 and 2011’s gains.

That’s according to the CUNA Mutual Group’s October Credit Union Trends Report, which tracked data through August.

At $603 billion, loans were up 3.9% from August 2011. Most of the strength has come from first  mortgages and vehicle loans, the data showed.

Mid-year data revisions added $2.4 billion to previous loan portfolio estimates and growth was restated 0.4 percentage points higher, the report noted. Almost all of the entire positive revisions came from short-term consumer installment credit, particularly vehicle loans. Data revisions were also positive for member business loans.

A $1.8 billion (4.4%) gain in MBLs also contributed to improving loan portfolio growth, but this source of growth and net interest margin is losing steam as many credit unions approach their MBL caps, wrote CUNA Mutual Chief Economist Dave Colby in the report.

Still, total loans are up 2.7% year to date, which is much better than same-period 2011 results and well above 2009, 2010 and 2011 full-year results, Colby said.

The picture looked remarkably different a year ago when credit unions were in the midst of a 0.4% portfolio contraction, according to the trends report.  On a year-over-year basis, total industry loans were up 3.9% as of August.

“Credit unions are starting a real recovery at the member level,” Colby said. “Not included in the portfolio statistics is member mortgage refinances, which are freeing up cash flow and providing members with interest rate security.”