Credit-Card Debt Up for First Time Since August 2008

U.S. outstanding consumer installment credit shot upward in December as shoppers boosted their credit-card debt for the first time in more than two years, the Federal Reserve said on Monday.

Total credit outstanding climbed $6.1 billion, nearly triple the $2.3 billion that Wall Street economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast, after an upwardly revised $2 billion increase in November.

December marked the third successive month in which consumer credit outstanding grew. It had risen by a steep $7.7 billion in October before the November and December gains.

Prior to those three increases, consumer credit had contracted for 20 months in a row.

Strikingly in December, revolving or credit-card debt climbed by $3.5 billion -- the first month in which this category of debt had risen since August 2008.

An improving economy has helped bolster consumer optimism, though job growth remains slow. In addition, December marks the culmination of the Thanksgiving-through-Christmas shopping season when consumers are more likely to turn to their credit cards for purchases.