The numbers: Americans whipped out their credit cards in May and borrowed the most amount of money in five years, reflecting growing optimism about the economic recovery and a greater willingness of consumers to spend.
Total consumer credit rose by 10%, or $35 billion, in May, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. That’s the biggest increase since March of 2016.
Consumer credit had been growing at a slow but steady pace since last fall, but a waning coronavirus has allowed governments to remove most restrictions. The economy has responded by expanding more rapidly, with most companies trying to hire more workers. That’s added to the optimism.
Economists had been expecting an increase of $18 billion, according to a Wall Street Journal forecast.
Big picture: Households tend to use more credit when the economy is good and people feel like they have a lot of job security.
At the same time, though, the cost of many goods and services has risen sharply this year because of a surge in pentup demand.
The price of used cars, for example, have leaped to record highs and many popular vacation resorts around the country are booked. Those are just a few examples.
Yet the use of credit is not much higher than it was a year ago. It only exceeded precrisis levels in March. What’s more, savings levels are still quite high, thanks in part to federal stimulus money.
Last year the use of credit fell for the first time since the last recession in 2009.
Key details: Revolving credit, like credit cards, increased by 11.4%
Nonrevolving credit, typically auto and student loans, also rose 9.5%. This category of credit is much less volatile. It only fell briefly at the start of the pandemic before returning to steady growth.
The Fed report does not include mortgage loans — the largest category of household debt.
Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
and the S&P 500 index fell sharply in Thursday trades.