US consumer borrowing expected to show slight increase in December

Lifestyle and BudgetAssociated Press

The Federal Reserve releases its December report on consumer borrowing Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

BORROWING UP: The forecast is that borrowing rose in December by $15 billion, according to a survey of economists by data firm FactSet.

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CREDIT GAINS: In November, U.S. consumers increased their borrowing by $14.1 billion as stronger demand for auto and student loans offset a drop in credit card debt.

Analysts believe part of the weakness in credit cards may be due to sliding gas prices. If U.S. drivers are paying less to fill up the tank, the charges to their credit cards are going to shrink.

The expectation is that consumer borrowing will continue to expand in 2015 as strong employment gains make Americans feel more confident about taking on debt. Credit card debt has risen more slowly since the recession as households have been more cautious about using their credit cards.

However, the category of debt that covers auto loans and student loans has been growing at the fastest clip since the recession. That is partly because workers who lost jobs during the downturn took out loans to go back to school. Other students already enrolled in school stayed there longer with the job market so dismal, acquiring more student debt.

The Fed's monthly report on consumer credit does not cover mortgages, home equity loans or other types of loans secured by real estate.