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Student, car loans power US borrowing

Black Friday shoppers in Chicago. Consumers increased borrowing in November, the Federal Reserve said.

Andrew A. Nelles/associated press/file

Black Friday shoppers in Chicago. Consumers increased borrowing in November, the Federal Reserve said.

WASHINGTON — Americans increased their borrowing in November, led by continued gains in auto and student loans.

The Federal Reserve said consumers increased their borrowing by $12.3 billion in November to a seasonally adjusted $3.09 trillion. That is a record level and follows an October increase of $17.9 billion.

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Almost all of the November increase came from an $11.9 billion rise in borrowing for auto loans and student loans. Borrowing in the category that covers credit cards ticked up only $457.8 million after surging in October.

Credit card borrowing plunged after the Great Recession, and consumers remain cautious about taking on high-interest debt. It has gradually increased to its highest level in more than three years, but it’s still 16 percent below its peak of more than $1 trillion reached in 2008.

The combination of weak hiring and meager wage gains has left many Americans reluctant to charge their purchases.

Through November, the measure of auto loans and student loans has risen 8.2 percent from a year ago and has increased in every month but one since May 2010. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York quarterly report on consumer credit shows student loan debt has been the biggest driver of borrowing since the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009.

But consumers are starting to open their wallets, even if they have resisted using credit cards. Auto sales ended the year strongly, while other purchases have picked up.

Consumer spending rose 0.5 percent in November, the biggest increase in five months, according to the Commerce Department. That solid showing suggests solid economic growth in the final three months of 2013.

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

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