WASHINGTON - Americans borrowed more in April to attend college and buy cars and were a little less cautious with their credit cards than the previous month.
The Federal Reserve said Friday that consumer borrowing rose $11.1 billion in April from March to a seasonally adjusted $2.82 trillion. That's the 20th straight monthly gain and another record level.
Nearly all of the gain came from a category that includes auto and student loans, which increased $10.4 billion. A measure of credit card use rose $682 million. While that's only a modest gain, it follows a decline of $906 million for the category in March.
Greater borrowing could help boost consumer spending, which accounts for 70 per cent of economic activity.
The credit report doesn't separate auto loans from student loans. But according to quarterly data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt has been the biggest driver of borrowing since the Great Recession ended in June 2009. Student loans reached $986 billion in the first three months of this year. That's up from $675 billion in the second quarter of 2009.
At the same time, consumers have been hesitant to run up big credit card bills since the recession. And many have remained cautious this year, reflecting higher Social Security taxes that have reduced most paychecks.
Rising home prices and steady job growth have helped offset some of the impact of the tax increase. Employers added 175,000 jobs in April. That almost exactly matched the average increase of the previous 12 months: 172,000.
Consumers increased their spending from January through March at the fastest pace in more than two years. However, they had to trim the pace of their savings to finance their purchases. After-tax income dropped at an annual rate of 7.5 per cent in the first quarter. That drop reflected in part the increase in Social Security taxes that took effect on Jan. 1.
A person earning $50,000 a year will have about $1,000 less to spend this year. A household with two highly paid workers will have up to $4,500 less.
The overall economy grew at an annual rate of 2.4 per cent in the January-March quarter. The expectation is that growth is slowing in the April-June quarter to 2 per cent or less.
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.