WASHINGTON – US consumers increased their debt by just 3.3 percent in February, the weakest monthly change in nearly seven years despite an otherwise healthy economy.
The Federal Reserve said Friday that consumer borrowing rose $10.6 billion in March to nearly $3.9 trillion. The gains have slowed sharply from a 10.3 percent jump in debt levels in November. February's increase was the smallest since August 2011, when consumer credit levels declined.
The relatively modest bump in consumer borrowing suggests that some Americans may be reluctant to boost their spending, even though the unemployment rate has held at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent for the past six months.
The Labor Department separately reported Friday that the pace of job creation slowed in March, but employers have been adding an average of 211,000 jobs over the past six months. Consumer borrowing is a key metric for evidence of strength in spending, since it can indicate that people believe they will have the income to repay any loans.
In February, a category of debt that includes credit cards ticked up less than 0.2 percent to $1 trillion. It was the smallest increase since November 2013, when revolving credit levels fell nearly $1.7 billion.
Borrowing in a separate category that includes auto and student loans increased $10.5 billion to $2.8 trillion, the smallest gain in five months.