WASHINGTON – Consumers used their credit cards more in March, marking only the second increase in the more than two years since the height of the financial crisis.
The Federal Reserve said Friday that consumers increased their total borrowing by $6 billion in March, the sixth consecutive monthly gain. Consumers borrowed more to finance car loans for the eighth straight month. And a category of borrowing that includes credit card use rose for only the second time since August 2008.
More frequent credit card purchases could be a sign that consumers are feeling more confident about the economy.
The 3 percent overall increase pushed consumer borrowing to a seasonally adjusted annual level of $2.43 trillion, still just 1.3 percent higher level than a nearly four-year low of $2.39 trillion hit in September.
Americans spent more in March on furniture and electronic products, according to the government's latest report on retail sales. But they also had to pay higher prices for gas. Part of the rise in credit card borrowing may reflect the spike in pump prices.
Households began borrowing less and saving more during the recession, which began in December 2007. Economists think the belt-tightening may finally be coming to an end, thanks to gains in hiring and a one-year cut in Social Security payroll taxes. More borrowing and spending would mean stronger economic growth. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.
The Labor Department reported Friday that businesses added 268,000 jobs last month, the most since February 2006. It was the third straight month in which the private sector created more than 200,000 net jobs.
The Fed's monthly consumer credit report covers auto loans and credit card financing but excludes loans secured by real estate such as mortgages and home equity loans.
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