WASHINGTON — Americans took on $5.1 billion more in consumer debt than they paid off in December, up slightly from the November increase but well below the torrid debt growth in earlier months, the government reported Tuesday.
The Federal Reserve Board said the December credit increase compared to a $4.8-billion rise in November, with both months far below the record $11.5-billion debt gain in September, which saw heavy borrowing to finance new-car purchases.
December debt grew at an 11.5% annual rate, down from a rise of almost 20% during the past 12 months. Total consumer debt outstanding for the year was $541.37 billion.
Some economists have predicted that consumers are likely to cut back sharply on purchases of big-ticket items such as cars and appliances in coming months because of heavy debt burdens.
The Fed report showed that the December debt growth was in cash loans from banks and other short-term personal debt.