By Alicia Wallace, CNN
US consumers’ credit-hungry approach to spending continued in November, with borrowing rising by nearly $28 billion, according to Federal Reserve data released Monday.
The monthly increase, which was driven by higher rates of revolving credit, was below the $29.12 billion jump seen in October but extends a historic stretch of reliance on debt during a year with soaring inflation.
Economists were expecting a $25 billion monthly increase, according to consensus estimates on Refinitiv.
Outstanding consumer credit — which includes mostly credit cards, auto loans and student loans — grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 7.1%, according to the report. Revolving credit, which includes mostly credit cards, grew by 16.9%.
It’s the largest jump in revolving credit seen in three months and the fifth-largest monthly increase in Fed record-keeping that goes back nearly 55 years.
“I think we can attribute a lot of that [revolving debt increases] to holiday shopping,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst with Bankrate and Creditcards.com. “Of course inflation, no doubt, plays a role, but it seems to be accelerating once again after slowing a bit in the late summer, early fall.”
The increases seen in outstanding credit outpaces the amount people are bringing in: Average hourly earnings were up 4.8% annually during November, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Amid this period of high inflation, consumers have been dipping more into debt for their spending — but they’ve also kept their finances above water, for the most part.
However, household balance sheets are showing some signs of weakening, with various pieces of federal data showing delinquencies are on the rise and savings levels are dwindling.
“It’s really revolving credit, mostly credit card debt, that’s carrying the day right now,” Rossman said. “A lot of that would be on essentials, some of it on discretionary stuff as well; but with the average credit card rate approaching 20%, it’s a tough time to be growing your balance.”
The Federal Reserve has been quickly ratcheting up interest rates to cool off inflation. That has filtered down to historically high, if not record, interest rates for car loans, credit cards and personal loans. Monday’s Fed report showed that the average rate for a 60-month new car loan was 6.55%, credit card plans at 19.07%, and personal loans at 11.23%.
Separate data released Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed that Americans are, by and large, optimistic about inflation falling.
Median year-ahead inflation expectations declined in December, falling by 0.2 percentage point to 5%, the lowest reading since July 2021, according to the New York Fed’s latest survey of consumer expectations.
The survey also found that consumers’ spending growth expectations fell 1 percentage point to 5.9% — the lowest level since January 2022, according to the report.
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