AP News

Ahead of the Bell: US consumer borrowing


WASHINGTON (AP) — Borrowing by consumers is reaching record highs though at the same time, Americans have grown increasingly less reliant on credit cards.

The Federal Reserve will report Thursday on how much consumers borrowed in January. The report is scheduled to be released at 3:00 p.m. EST.

The credit report does not 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 recession ended.

In December consumers increased their borrowing by $14.6 billion from November, to a seasonally adjusted record of $2.78 trillion. Americans took on more debt to buy cars and to attend school, but cut back sharply on credit card use.

Since the recession, people have grown leery of using plastic, a trend that most economists believe will continue. And higher Social Security taxes that began lowering take-home pay on Jan. 1 are likely to shift consumer behavior even more in that direction.

The White House reached an agreement with Congress in January to prevent income taxes from rising on most Americans. The deal did not extend a temporary two-year cut in Social Security taxes, which expired at the beginning of the year.

The bump in taxes translates to about $1,000 less in spending money for a person earning $50,000 this year. A household with two high-paid workers will have up to $4,500 less.

Many economists expect just the jump in the Social Security tax will trim the economy's growth by about one-half a percentage point this year.

The overall economy barely grew in the October-December quarter, rising at an annual rate of just 0.1 percent. However, that reflected some temporary factors, including a big drop in defense spending and a slowed restocking by businesses that were working through existing inventory.

Many economists believe growth will rebound this quarter, which comes to a close at the end of the month, to around a 2 percent rate.


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