Americans showed more caution in taking on non-mortgage debt in August, according to the latest consumer borrowing report from the Federal Reserve.
Consumer credit rose at an annual rate of 5% in August, the slowest pace in nine months as the use of credit cards declined. Consumer credit had grown at an annual rate of 8.1% in July and 7.1% in June.
The Fed reported that revolving credit, which includes credit cards and other types of loans that arent on fixed payment schedules, fell $208 million in August, down 0.3% after rising by 7.4% in July. Credit card balances remain well below pre-recession levels with usage curtailed by strained household finances and tighter lending standards.
The $13.5 billion gain in credit in August followed a $21.6 billion advance in July that was smaller than previously estimated. Households wary of taking on more debt are being careful about using their credit cards for purchases as wage gains remain limited. At the same time, a stronger job market and cheap borrowing costs are giving households the wherewithal to buy big-ticket items such as motor vehicles.
Non-revolving loans, which include borrowing for autos, student loans and mortgages, climbed $13.7 billion, the smallest increase since January. Non-revolving lending increased by 7% in August, down from 8.3% in July and 8.9% in June. New car sales rose to an annualized 17.5 million pace in August, according to researcher Autodata Corp., the fastest since January 2006. The pace had cooled a month earlier to 16.3 million, capping the best quarter for the industry in more than eight years.
For most of the recovery, growth in consumer credit has been driven by student lending by the federal government and, more recently, by bank financing for auto purchases.
Other recent data has pointed to healthy spending by consumers. A broad gauge of spending compiled by the Commerce Department showed outlays increased 4.1% from a year earlier, slightly faster than the pace seen in earlier months.
Employers added 248,000 workers in September, and the unemployment rate fell to a six-year low of 5.9%, a report from the Labor Department showed last week. At the same time, wages climbed 2% from September 2013, the smallest year-over-year gain in three months.