Americans took out $2.22 billion more in installment credit than they paid off in November as the growth in consumer borrowing slowed in the first full month after the stock market collapse, the government said yesterday.
The Federal Reserve said consumer debt grew at a 4.4 percent annual rate in November, after growth of $2.88 billion -- a 5.7 percent rate -- in October.
Consumer credit, spurred by a boom in automobile sales in response to late-summer dealer incentives, grew at a 12.9 percent rate during September and at a 10.2 percent rate during August.
The slower growth in November came mainly in the auto loan and credit card categories.
Economists have been watching consumer debt levels for signs that Americans cut back spending in the wake of the Oct. 19 stock market collapse.
Sandra Shaber, an economist with The Futures Group, a consulting firm based in Washington, said the slow growth during November fit the general pattern for the year, although the market collapse probably played a role.
"Consumers are becoming much more reluctant to either use savings or credit to make major purchases," she said. Consumer debt grew at a sluggish 3.5 percent for the first six months of the year. She attributed the steep climb in late summer to the auto sales spurt.
Indications are that the pace will pick up a bit in December, she said. Car sales improved and a last-minute boom in Christmas shopping has been reported.
Auto loans grew by $197 million -- a 0.9 percent rate -- in November, compared with $1.24 billion for a 5.8 percent increase in October. Borrowing on credit cards increased by $457 million -- a 3.8 percent rate, compared with $1.44 billion for a 12.2 percent increase a month earlier.
The category that includes cash loans from banks and credit unions that are not secured by real estate grew by $1.55 billion in November, a 10.5 percent rate. In October, that category increased $225 million, a 1.5 percent rate.
Loans for mobile homes increased $12 million after a $22 million decline in October.
The changes in November left total consumer debt at $607.7 billion.