Consumer borrowing in March rose by the most in a little more than a year as Americans used credit cards more often while also taking out school and auto loans, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.
Consumers increased their debt in March by a seasonally adjusted $17.5 billion, the fastest pace since February 2013. That increase was bigger than projected and followed a revised $13 billion February advance that was smaller than initially reported. Non-revolving loans, including borrowing for cars and college tuition, rose by the most in six months to $16.4 billion, up 8.7% in March following an 8.4% gain in February.
Revolving credit, which includes credit-card balances, rose $1.1 billion, the most in three months, after a $2.7 billion decline in February, the Federal Reserve reported. Consumer debt has risen every month since August 2011.
Monthly overall debt rose at a 6.7% annual rate in March, compared with a 5.0% rate in the prior month.
Banks are showing a greater willingness to lend while job growth and stock-market gains give households the confidence to borrow after years of deleveraging. Credit-card balances remain low by historical standards and mortgage lending has slowed as home prices and interest rates rise.
Federal government lending to consumers, comprised mainly of educational loans, rose by $2.6 billion before adjusting for seasonal variations. In the first quarter, student-loan debt rose $32.6 billion after a $12 billion gain in the final three months of 2013.
Many banks are showing a greater willingness to extend credit cards and finance car purchases amid growing demand and rising competition, according to a Fed survey of bank senior loan officers at 74 domestic banks and 23 U.S. units of foreign banks from April 1-15.
Household demand for non-mortgage borrowing is improving as consumer confidence improves. Last week, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index reached its second-highest level in more than six years.