WASHINGTON — Americans increased their borrowing in May at the fastest pace in a year. Borrowing in the category that includes credit cards reached its highest point since the fall of 2010.
Increased borrowing typically means consumers are feeling more confident.
Americans stepped up their borrowing by $19.6 billion in May compared with April, the Federal Reserve said Monday in its monthly report on consumer credit. That was the biggest jump since a $19.9 billion rise in May 2012. Total borrowing reached a record $2.84 trillion.
The category that includes credit card use rose $6.6 billion, also the largest gain in a year. Credit card debt reached $847.1 billion, the most since September 2010. Credit card debt remains about 16 percent below its high of $1.02 trillion in July 2008 — just before the financial crisis erupted.
Borrowing for autos and student loans rose $13 billion in May. That was the sharpest increase since February. This category of borrowing has been rising especially fast, driven by loans to pay for college.
The Federal Reserve's consumer credit report does not separate student loans from auto loans. But data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show that student loan debt has been the biggest driver of borrowing since the Great Recession officially ended.
More credit card borrowing could help boost consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. But some consumers have been hesitant to run up high-interest debt since the recession ended. Some economists say many Americans remain cautious.
Despite the jump in credit card debt in May, consumers aren't likely to increase their card use to pre-recession levels, said Cooper Howes, an economist at Barclays Research. Credit card debt is known as revolving credit.
"We expect the trends of student loan-driven expansion ... and only small changes in revolving credit to continue in coming months," Howes said.