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US consumer borrowing up $13.7 billion in January

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Consumers increased their borrowing in January on autos and student loans but cut back on their credit card use.

Consumer borrowing rose $13.7 billion in January following an even larger $15.9 billion rise in December, the Federal Reserve reported Friday.

The category that includes auto and student loans increased $13.9 billion while the category that covers credit cards fell $226 million, marking the third time in the past five months that credit card loans have declined.

The big overall increase pushed total borrowing to a record $3.11 trillion. Gains in borrowing are seen as an encouraging sign that people are more confident and willing to take on debt to finance consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.

That has been the trend over the past year. Most of the gains have come in the category that covers auto and student loans. Credit card borrowing has been rising more slowly.

Borrowing on credit cards plunged after the Great Recession as financial institutions tightened lending standards and households became more cautious about taking on high-interest debt at a time when millions of people were losing their jobs.

Even with recent gains, credit card debt in January was still 16.2 percent below its peak above $1 trillion reached in July 2008. Credit card debt stood at $856.2 billion in January, up just 0.9 percent from a year ago.

The measure of auto loans and student loans in January stood at $2.26 trillion, up 7.8 percent from a year ago. It has been up every month but one since May 2010.

A separate quarterly report on consumer credit done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that student loan debt has been the biggest driver of borrowing since the recession officially ended in June 2009.

The Fed's borrowing report tracks credit card debt, auto loans and student loans but not mortgages or home equity loans.

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