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Credit Spending Surges for 5th Straight Month : Consumers: Low interest rates and renewed optimism appear to be spurring Americans to borrow once again.

From Associated Press

After spending heavily at Christmas, Americans took out their credit cards again in January, boosting their borrowing for the fifth straight month, the government said Friday.

Consumer installment credit outstanding rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.5% to $727.6 billion, the Federal Reserve said.

That followed a 5.3% increase in December, the best in two years and even better than the 4.1% initially estimated.

The last decline in consumer borrowing came in August, which marked the seventh consecutive drop. The new level of credit outstanding now is the largest since last February.

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One of the hallmarks of the recession was a drive by consumers to reduce their debt burdens. But low interest rates and renewed consumer optimism after the presidential election appears to be spurring consumers to once again borrow.

Also, unemployment has been declining since it peaked at 7.7% last June. The Labor Department on Friday said the rate stood at 7%, the lowest since November, 1991.

Economists expect consumers to continue to increase their spending this year, although perhaps at a somewhat slower pace than at the end of 1992.

Because President Bush changed the tax withholding rate last year, many consumers will be disappointed by the size of their tax refunds this spring. Also, President Clinton’s proposed tax increases could start to crimp some consumers’ budgets later this year.

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Preliminary indications are that consumer spending faded a bit in February. Major retail chains earlier this week said bad weather in some parts of the country depressed sales somewhat.

In January, revolving credit--which includes credit cards--soared at an annual rate of 9.4% to $253.2 billion. That offset declines in auto loans and in other kinds of consumer borrowing.

Auto loans fell at an annual rate of 2.5% to $259.6 billion. But that followed an 11% increase in December.

Other kinds of consumer loans fell at a 2.9% rate to $214.8 billion in January.

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