WASHINGTON — Americans accelerated their borrowing in December for the second straight month, running up more credit card debt and taking out loans to buy cars and attend school.
Consumer borrowing rose by $19.3 billion in December after a $20.4 billion gain in November, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday. The two increases were the biggest monthly gains in a decade.
Total consumer borrowing is now at a seasonally adjusted $2.5 trillion. That nearly matches the pre-recession borrowing level. And it is up 4.4 percent from the September 2010 post-recession low.
The rise in borrowing could be a sign that Americans are more confident in the economy. But consumers are also borrowing more at a time when their wages haven't kept pace with inflation.
The outlook for hiring has improved, which could help boost consumer spending.
In January, companies added 243,000 net jobs, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years.
Still, without higher pay, many could pull back further on spending. Consumer spending was flat in December, and the savings rate fell. Consumer spending is important because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.
The Federal Reserve's borrowing report covers auto loans, student loans and credit cards. It excludes mortgages, home equity loans and other loans tied to real estate.