U.S. consumers in December increased their borrowing at the fastest pace in three months. The result suggests that consumer spending should remain strong in the coming months.
Total consumer borrowing expanded $21.3 billion in December compared to a revised increase of $14 billion in November, according to the Federal Reserve’s monthly consumer credit report. It was the strongest showing since an increase of $28.6 billion in September, the Federal Reserve reported. It pushed total borrowing to a fresh record of $3.55 trillion.
Consumers’ loans for vehicle purchases and education fueled an increase in overall borrowing in December, according to the report. Nonrevolving debt, including auto loans and student loans, increased $15.4 billion in December - twice November's $7.7 billion increase. Revolving debt, largely borrowing for credit cards, increased by $5.8 billion in December compared to $6.4 billion in November.
The numbers suggest that households - amid persistent job growth that’s showing signs of fueling wage gains - might be more willing to carry larger credit card balances and take out car loans. Consumer credit outstanding rose 6.9% through last year and in the fourth quarter student loans jumped $9.5 billion as lending for auto loans rose $8.9 billion.
Consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of economic activity, is expected to accelerate this quarter after slowing in late 2015. The overall economy grew at a lackluster annual rate of just 0.7% in the October-December period as consumer spending slowed to a growth rate of 2.2%. Economists are looking for more gains in employment to bolster spending in the current quarter.
In its monthly credit report, the Fed doesn’t break down auto loans and student loans in the seasonally adjusted data. The report excludes borrowing that is backed by real estate such as mortgage loans and home equity loans.