WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans gave their credit cards a real workout this past holiday season.
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The Federal Reserve said Friday that borrowing on credit cards rose by the largest amount in more than two decades in December.
Total U.S. consumer borrowing rose $22.1 billion in December, the central bank said. That was the biggest gain since July and nearly double the $11.8 billion increase in November.
The overall December surge was led by a $12.6 billion increase in the category that includes credit cards. It was the biggest one-month gain in credit card debt since a $19.5 billion increase in April 1998.
December’s jump came after a $2.9 billion decline in credit card borrowing in November.
The surge in credit card borrowing in December was another sign that retailers had a good holiday shopping season, although a growing share of those purchases are going to on-line retailers rather than brick-and-mortar stores.
Borrowing in the category that covers auto loans and student loans was up $9.4 billion in December, down from a $14.7 billion gain in November.
Consumer borrowing is closely watched for signals it can provide about Americans’ willingness to take on debt to finance consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of U.S. economic activity.
The overall increase of $22.1 billion pushed consumer credit to a record of $1.1 trillion. The Fed’s monthly credit report does not cover home mortgages or other debt secured by real estate such as home equity loans.