U.S. consumers sharply slowed the pace at which they piled on debt in March, as outstanding consumer credit rose $1.6 billion, or a 1.4% annual rate, according to figures released Friday by the Federal Reserve.

The pace of advance was down significantly from an unrevised $8.7 billion gain, or an 8.0% annual pace, in February.

The Fed said the March increase was the smallest monthly gain by dollar amount since November 1997, when there was a decline of $3.1 billion.

Wall Street analysts had expected a gain of around $6 billion.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.