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US consumer borrowing up $19.6 billion in May; gains slow after sudden April acceleration

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WASHINGTON - Consumers increased their borrowing at a slower pace in May compared to the prior month.

Overall credit rose by $19.6 billion in May, down from a gain of $26.1 billion in April, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday. The relatively modest increase should help to feed slow but steady economic growth, because consumers rely on debt to pay tuition, buy cars and shop.

Total outstanding consumer debt is now approaching $3.2 trillion.

Auto and student loans drove much of the gains in May. They increased by a combined $17.8 billion. That marks a year-over-year rise of 9.3 per cent.

Credit card debt rose by a slight $1.8 billion in May, after having surged in April. The increase in credit card debt over the past year has been 2.5 per cent.

Increased borrowing usually suggests that people are more confident about their prospects and willing to take on debt. That, in turn, can help drive consumer spending, which accounts for 70 per cent of U.S. economic activity.

Credit card debt plummeted during the recession. An average household had $8,740 in credit card debt when the downturn started at the end of 2007, according to an analysis of Fed figures by the financial data firm NerdWallet.

That figure steadily dropped through the middle of 2011, but recently plateaued around $7,100 because people are still hesitant to take on additional high-interest debt.

Student loan debt has been the biggest driver of consumer borrowing since the recession ended in June 2009, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

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