Ka-Ching! US Consumer Borrowing at Highest Level Ever

Adam Gault | OJO Images | Getty Images

Americans stepped up borrowing in January to buy cars and attend school, while staying cautious about using their credit cards.

The Federal Reserve says consumer borrowing rose $16.15 billion in January from December to a total of $2.8 trillion. That's the highest level on record.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a $14.5-billion increase.

(Click here to track the U.S. stock market reaction to this report.)

A category that covers student loans and auto loans grew $16 billion following an $18.3-billion gain in December.

Consumers barely increased credit-card debt in January, when higher Social Security taxes lowered take-home pay for most workers.

A measure of credi- card debt rose only $106.1 million. That followed a $3.2 billion drop in December. Credit- card debt remains 17.2 percent below the peak set in June 2008.

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