Americans' Debt Rises, Credit Card Borrowing Eases a Little

Americans cooled off their credit cards in April, a factor in a slower rate of increase in borrowing for the month, the Federal Reserve (search) reported Monday.

U.S. consumer credit (search) rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.3 percent in April, or by $3.91 billion, from the previous month.

Consumers borrowed more freely in March, adding to their debt by nearly $9.3 billion, a sizable 5.5 percent rate. That was stronger even than the Fed's original estimate of a month ago.

Even with the slowdown in April borrowing, the increase for the month pushed outstanding consumer credit to a record $2.03 trillion.

The Fed's report includes credit card debt and loans for such commodities as boats, cars and mobile homes. It does not, however, include real-estate loans, such as home mortgages or popular home-equity loans.

In April, credit card and other revolving credit dropped by $3.21 billion, or at a 5.1 percent rate. That compared with a $3.75 billion increase in March, a brisk 6 percent growth rate.

The decline in revolving credit in April marked the biggest drop since December 2002.

For nonrevolving credit, which includes loans for cars, vacations and education, demand went up by 6.7 percent pace, or $7.12 billion, in April. That was up from a 5.3 percent rate of increase in March, a rise of $5.55 billion.

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise a key short-term interest rate on June 30 for the first time in more than four years. That rate, called the federal funds rate, is now at a 46-year low of 1 percent. Should the funds rate go up as many analysts predict, then commercial banks would boost their prime lending rates by a corresponding amount. The prime rate, the benchmark for millions of short-term consumer loans, now is at an ultralow level of 4 percent.

Against that backdrop, financial analysts advise consumers with credit card debt, auto loans and home equity loans tied to these short-term rates to pay off as much of their debts as possible before rates move higher.