Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Consumer Borrowing in U.S. Posts Smallest Gain Since July 2012

U.S. consumer debt outstanding in January posted the smallest gain since July 2012 as American households reduced their credit-card balances.

The $8.8 billion advance last month was smaller than the lowest estimate in a Bloomberg survey and followed a revised $14.8 billion gain in the prior month, Federal Reserve figures showed Tuesday.

Revolving debt, which includes credit cards, declined by the most since December 2012 as households got to work reducing balances that had built up over the holiday-shopping season. The figures also help explain a moderation in consumer spending so far in the first quarter.

At the same time, the pace of non-revolving credit picked up in January from a month earlier on financing of big-ticket purchases such as cars and school loans.

The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a $17.3 billion increase in total consumer credit, with estimates ranging from $11 billion to $26 billion. The December reading was previously reported as an advance of $14.2 billion.

Revolving debt, which includes credit cards, dropped $3.8 billion after a $3.6 billion increase, the Fed’s report showed.

Non-revolving debt, such as that for college tuition and the purchase of vehicles and mobile homes, climbed $12.6 billion after an $11.2 billion increase.

Lending by the federal government, which is mainly for student loans, rose by $27.3 billion in January before adjusting for seasonal variations.

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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