As the administration studied possible selective credit controls to slow inflation, the Federal Reserve Board yesterday reported that American consumers expanded their use of credit by $1.37 billion in January, virtually the same as the previous month.

Other reports from the Commerce Department showed a drop in retail sales in February of 0.7 percent, possibly indicating an end to a pattern of increasing consumer spending, and a January rise in sales of new single-family homes that still didn't get sales up to their pace a year earlier.

And a business-sponsored research organization reported that large manufacturing companies increased appropriations for capital investments by 33 percent last year.

The credit report said extended new credit grew to $26.70 billion, the first increase in four months, while repayment of old debts rose to $25.33 billion.

The resulting 1.37 billion credit gap was slightly larger than December's $1.35 billion, the Federal Reserve said.

On an annual basis, the percentage rate of growth during both December and January was 5.3 percent, the slowest pace since early 1975.

Credit expanded by 13 percent during 1979.

As part of its overall review of economic policy, officials say the White House is considering asking the Federal Reserve to impose controls on certain types of credit in hopes of cooling off inflationary borrowing.

Controls on automobile loans and home mortgages have been ruled out, officials say.

However, President Carter is said to be leaning toward seeking certain restrictions on revolving credit -- credit cards issued by banks, retail stores, gasoline companies and check-credit.

Newly extended revolving credit in January totaled $10.48 billion, an increase of $279 million from the previous month.

Revolving credit accounted for nearly 40 percent of all new credit extended in January, the the Federal Reserve said.

The possible controls said to be under consideration include minimum repayments, shortened payment periods and ceilings on overall credit lines.

The Federal Reserve said total credit outstanding in January totaled $309 billion, a rise of 12.2 percent over the previous year.

Repayment of old debts rose by $1 billion to $25.33 billin.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that sales at the nation's retail stores, which had surged in the wake of January advertising campaigns, dropped 0.7 percent in February to $79 billion. It was the first decline in four months.

The decline in retail sales raised the possibility that the consumer spending spree, which has kept the economy going since mid-1879, was nearing an end.

Many economists are predicting that the nation's economy will fall into a recession this year.One reason is that consumers took on a considerable amount of debt and drastically reduced savings last year, leaving them with fewer sources of funds in 1980.

The report showed that sales at durable-goods stores fell 1.1 percent from January's $27 billion to $26.7 billion in February.

Sales at hardware stores fell from $4.4 billion in January to $4.2 billion in February. At auto dealerships sales were down from $15.31 billion in January to $15.29 billion in February. And sales at home furnishings stores were off from $3.8 billion to $3.7 billion.

Sales at stores specializing in non-durable goods fell 0.5 percent to $52.2 billion in February, the report showed.

Sales were down in department, food apparel and drug stores and in restaurants but up at gasoline service stations, the data indicated.

In another report, the Commerce Department said that the sales of new single-family homes rose slightly in January to an annual rate of 594,000 units but remained nearly 22 percent behind the pace of sales a year earlier.

Sales have been weak since October, when the Federal Reserve began moving to fight inflation by tightening credit. And the Federal Reserve moved again Feb. 15 to tighten credit still further.

Another report released yesterday, meanwhile, estimated the nation's 1,000 largest manufacturing companies increased their appropriations for capital investments by 33 percent in 1979, including an 8.5 percent rise in the final quarter.

The companies responding to a Conference Board survey said, however, they expect appropriations to drop 8 percent in 1980 despite a projected increase in spending of 12 percent.

The automotive industry led the way with a 162 percent increase in appropriations during the three-month period, while increases of more than 20 percent were registered by four industries: stone, clay and glass; steel; electrical machinery, and fabricated metals.