Consumers cut back on their credit card use for the second straight month in February but increased borrowing on student loans and auto loans by the largest amount in a year.
The category that includes credit cards fell $2.4 billion after a $241 million drop in January. But the decline was offset by an $18.9 billion increase in borrowing in the category that covers autos and student loans, the biggest one-month gain since February 2013, the Federal Reserve reported Monday.
Overall consumer borrowing climbed $16.5 billion in February, up from a $13.5 billion gain in January. Gains in borrowing are seen as an encouraging sign that people are more confident and willing to take on debt. The overall increase in consumer debt pushed total borrowing to a record $3.13 trillion.
Credit card borrowing plunged during the 2007-09 recession as consumers tried to lower their debts as millions of people lost their jobs and many others worried about the threat of layoffs. Borrowing began rising again in 2011 but the increases have lagged well behind the category that covers auto and student loans. Economists said that many households have become more cautious about taking on high-interest debt.
Credit card debt in February was still 17.3% below its peak above $1 trillion reached in July 2008. Card debt totaled $854.2 billion in February, up just 0.5% from a year ago.
The measure of auto loans and student loans in January reached $2.28 trillion, up 7.7% from a year ago. It has been up every month but one since May 2010.
A separate quarterly report on consumer credit done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that student loan debt has been the biggest driver of borrowing since the recession officially ended in June 2009.