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Consumers went a-charging in November

Jeremy Simon

Consumers relied heavily on credit cards to drive their spending in the run-up to the holiday season, according to recently published consumer credit statistics from the Federal Reserve.

Overall consumer credit (which includes both revolving and nonrevolving credit but excludes home mortgages and other real estate-secured loans) increased at an annual percentage rate of 7.4 percent in November to $2.51 trillion, the Fed reported. That rise topped Wall Street forecasts, and followed a downwardly revised gain of 1 percent in October.

Revolving credit — largely comprised of credit card debt — increased 11.3 percent to $937.5 billion in November for the biggest gain in six months, as consumers put their spending on plastic.

“The figures suggest Americans are relying more on credit cards and other short-term borrowing to maintain spending after the collapse in subprime lending made bank loans harder to get,” said. “An increase of 133,000 U.S. jobs in November and December was the lowest for those two months since 2002 and disposable incomes aren’t keeping pace with inflation.”

This increased credit card usage comes at a time when getting approved for a credit card is seemingly harder. Taken with other newly-released data, the consumer credit figures support the idea that credit cards offer a loan of last resort for prospective borrowers. But as The Wall Street Journal reminds readers, “The credit data are often volatile from month to month and frequently revised.” So the latest consumer credit numbers could change with the release next month of the December data.

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