WASHINGTON — Consumer borrowing rose more than projected in August as Americans took out more loans for motor vehicle purchases and education.
The $13.6 billion increase in credit followed a $10.4 billion gain in July, the Federal Reserve said Monday in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists had called for a $12 billion advance. Non-revolving debt, which includes financing for college tuition and motor vehicles, climbed $14.5 billion, after increasing by $12.2 billion in July.
The boost to household wealth from improved home values and stock-market gains has put consumers in a position to take advantage of cheaper borrowing costs for major purchases such as automobiles.
Credit-card lending declined for a third month, showing Americans are being deliberate in taking on more debt to finance other purchases.
“We have a gradually maturing recovery with decent wage gains,” Robert Stein, deputy chief economist at First Trust Portfolios in Wheaton, Ill., said before the report. “Because people are earning more, they don’t need to borrow as much to fuel their consumption growth” with credit cards.
August credit estimates by the 34 economists surveyed had ranged from increases of $9 billion to $18 billion. The Federal Reserve report doesn’t track debt secured by real estate, such as mortgages and home-equity lines of credit.
Revolving debt, which includes credit-card spending, decreased by $883 million in August after falling $1.8 billion the month before, Monday’s figures showed.
The pickup in non-revolving lending in August was a reflection of stronger auto sales and an increase in school loans. Cars and light trucks sold in August at an annualized pace of 16 million, the strongest since November 2007, according to data from Ward’s Automotive Group.
“We believe that there are a lot of things going on in terms of positive momentum in the economy,” Jenny Lin, senior U.S. economist at the Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co., said on an Oct. 1 sales call. “Interest rates remain very low and favorable for auto purchases.”
Consumer loans made by the federal government, mostly for school tuitions, jumped by $21.9 billion before seasonal adjustment, after increasing $4.8 billion in July, Monday’s report showed.
The interest rate on undergraduate Stafford loans dropped to 3.86 percent in August, retroactive to July 1, the day the rate doubled to 6.8 percent. The law links financing to 10-year Treasury yields, which had the immediate effect of reducing the borrowing cost for Stafford loans.
“There was uncertainty in July over the interest rate that was going to be charged,” Russell Price, senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit, said before the report. “I think a lot of the student loan debt was delayed until August, so there’s been catch-up.”
Higher home and stock prices have allowed Americans to repair balance sheets. Disposable income, or money left over after taxes, adjusted for changes in prices has been picking up since the start of the year. It increased 1.6 percent in August from the same month last year, the biggest gain since the end of 2012, Commerce Department figures showed.
The advance is helping sustain household purchases, which account for about 70 percent of the economy. Inflation-adjusted personal consumption increased 2 percent in August from a year earlier, according to the Commerce Department. Faster employment and wage gains would help spur bigger gains.