Outstanding consumer credit, a measure of non-real estate debt, rose by a seasonally adjusted $10.5 billion in January from a month earlier, the Federal Reserve reports. The 3.58% annual growth rate was the slowest pace since March 2013. In actual dollars, it was the smallest increase since November 2013.
The deceleration could indicate that households are being cautious during a time of global financial market volatility.
Revolving debt, which includes credit cards, declined $1.1 billion, the first decrease since February 2015. Non-revolving loans, which include funding for college tuition and auto purchases, rose $11.6 billion in January after a $15.9 billion gain in Decmeber. Lending by the federal government, which is mainly for student loans, rose by almost $27 billion before adjusting for seasonal variations.
The numbers indicate that households could be wary of spoiling the progress they’ve made in fixing their finances after the last recession and are being careful in their credit card use. At the same time, steady car sales indicate Americans a less anxious about taking out low-interest auto loans.
"Although the amount of outstanding credit continues to move higher, the upward trend has downshifted lately," JP Morgan Chase economist Daniel Silver said in a note to clients. Silver called the slowdown "a little surprising considering that it has coincided with some firming in the recent spending data.”
The median forecast of 32 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a $17 billion increase in total borrowing, with estimates ranging from gains of $6.5 billion to $21 billion. December credit was previously reported as rising $21.3 billion.
The Fed’s consumer credit report doesn’t track debt secured by real estate, such as home equity lines of credit and home mortgages.