Consumer Borrowing in U.S. Increases at Fastest Pace Since 2001

Household borrowing surged in March at the fastest pace since November 2001 as financing for automobiles picked up and Americans’ outstanding credit-card debt soared.

The $29.7 billion increase, or an annualized 10 percent, exceeded the highest estimate in a Bloomberg survey and followed a revised $14.1 billion gain the prior month, Federal Reserve figures showed Friday. Revolving credit, which includes credit-card spending, posted the biggest annualized advance since July 2000.

With employers still hiring at a decent clip, consumers may be growing more comfortable carrying bigger credit-card balances and taking out car loans. The pickup in March helped drive up household borrowing in the first quarter to a 6.4 annualized pace, compared with a 6.2 percent rate in the final three months of 2015.

Revolving debt jumped by $11.1 billion in March, or an annualized 14.2 percent, after a $2.9 billion increase, the Fed’s report showed.

Non-revolving debt, which includes loans for education and automobile and mobile home purchases, increased $18.6 billion, the most since September. In the first quarter, student loans outstanding climbed $31.7 billion and lending for auto purchases increased $13.5 billion.

The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a $16 billion rise in total consumer credit, with estimates ranging from $5 billion to $24 billion. The February reading was previously reported as an advance of $17.2 billion.

The Fed’s consumer credit report doesn’t track debt secured by real estate, such as home equity lines of credit and home mortgages.

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