After more than two years of choosing cash over credit, more shoppers reached for their credit cards in December, a sign that consumers are putting the thaw on spending freezes they implemented during the Great Recession.
According to the Federal Reserve's consumer credit data released Monday, revolving credit, which includes credit cards, rose 3.5 percent, or $2.3 billion, in December to $800.5 billion. The monthly increase follows 27 consecutive months of declines since August 2008 when consumers started to recognize the severity of the downturn and tuck their cards away.
Louis Johnston, chair of the economics department at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University, said the numbers show workers are less worried about job security. "They're willing to put something on their credit card with a little bit of confidence that they're going to have a job and that their paycheck is going to be solid," he said.
The problem for the broader economy, he said, is "that a lot of people don't have jobs."
In all, total U.S. consumer borrowing in December climbed $6.1 billion to $2.41 trillion. That's the third monthly increase in a row, and beat economists' projections in a Bloomberg News survey. But it's still below the July 2008 peak, when total consumer credit outstanding amounted to $2.58 trillion.
Despite ongoing housing woes and the fact that the stock market is still below its all-time high, recent stock market gains plus the payroll tax cut (which puts extra dollars in workers' pockets), "should help maintain the consumer spending momentum," said Gregory Daco, U.S. senior economist of IHS Global Insight.
Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293