WASHINGTON -- Consumer confidence tumbled this month to its lowest level since April amid rising  interest rates and sluggish job creation.

The preliminary September consumer sentiment reading Friday from the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters fell to 76.8 from August's final figure of 82.1. Analysts had expected the figure to be flat.

The closely watched index hit a six-year high of 85.1 in July but has fallen as lenders have hiked mortgage and other interest rates sharply this summer in anticipation of a pullback by the Federal Reserve of one of its major stimulus programs.

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Richard Curtin, the survey's chief economist, said the decline reflected growing concern about the effect  of rising rates on the economy, according to Reuters. Higher mortgage rates also have slowed the housing market rebound, which had an influence on how homeowners view their financial well-being, he said.

Consumers views of present economic conditions and their expectations for the coming year fell in September.

"It is very obvious that Americans are still cautious and their mood has soured recently," said Chris Christopher, an economist with IHS Global Insight. He projects modest growth in consumer spending and retail sales ahead.

Those expectations would be consistent with government data released Friday showing retail sales growth slowed unexpectedly in August.

Federal Reserve policymakers are monitoring economic data as they consider reducing a key stimulus program when they meet next week.

Despite some discouraging recent reports, most economists and investors expect the Federal Open Market Committee to announce Wednesday that it will start tapering the $85 billion in monthly bond buying.

"While the Fed may be considering policy change predicated on an improved assessment of economic conditions, clearly the consumer is not privy to the same rose-colored glasses," said Lindsey M. Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee.

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