Ahead Of The Bell: US Consumer Credit

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Consumers likely increased their borrowing in July but by a smaller amount than in June.

Economists were predicting that borrowing rose by $12.5 billion in July, according to a survey by FactSet. The Federal Reserve will release the report at 3 p.m. EDT Monday.

In June, consumers increased borrowing by $13.8 billion pushing the Fed's consumer debt measurement to a record $2.85 trillion.

The gains were all in a category that measures student loans and auto loans. By contrast, consumers cut back again on credit card use, suggesting that many remain cautious about accumulating high-interest debt.

The Federal Reserve's consumer credit report does not separate student loans and auto loans. But the Federal Reserve Bank of New York tracks consumer credit on a quarterly basis. Those reports show that student loan debt has been the biggest driver of borrowing since the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009. In part, that's because many Americans who lost jobs in the downturn returned to school for training in hopes of getting back into the workforce.

More credit card borrowing could help boost consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. But many consumers have been hesitant to run the balances on their credit cards. And this year, consumers have also been hit by higher Social Security taxes.

Economists are hoping that as the impact of those higher taxes fades, consumer spending will strengthen in the second half of this year. That forecast is also counting on steady job growth to bolster income growth and support higher spending.

But there are forces still working to dampen growth, including thousands of federal furloughs which depressed income growth in July. And job growth has been weaker than first thought.

The government reported that employers added 169,000 jobs in August but 74,000 fewer jobs in June and July than previously reported.

The unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent, but lowest in nearly five years, but it fell because more Americans stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed.

The overall economy grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the April-June period, an increase that was helped by an improvement in the trade deficit. But growth in the July-September quarter may slip back to a little below 2 percent before rebounding to a rate slightly above 2 percent in the final three months of the year.

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

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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