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U.S. consumers add more debt for cars, education

U.S. consumers took on more debt in November to buy cars and attend school, but stayed cautious with their credit cards.
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER Published: January 9, 2013

Paul Edelstein, an economist at Global Insight, said consumers seem willing to take on more debt, but slow wage growth and high unemployment should keep many household budgets tight.

The Federal Reserve's borrowing report covers auto loans, student loans and credit cards. It excludes mortgages, home equity loans and other loans tied to real estate.

The economy has been showing signs of improvement.

Consumers boosted their spending in November, helped by lower gas prices and solid job growth that carried into December. Employers added 155,000 jobs in December and 161,000 in November.

Steady hiring may have encouraged consumers to keep borrowing and spending, despite tense negotiations to resolve the fiscal cliff. Still, some analysts think borrowing and spending may have slowed in December as the budget talks in Washington intensified. Congress and the White House didn't reach a deal to avert sharp tax increases until Jan. 1. And they delayed tougher decisions about spending cuts for two months.

Consumer confidence fell in November and December, which could show up as slow spending in December. Consumer spending drives roughly 70 percent of economic activity.