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 / Updated  / Source: Associated Press

In what is viewed as a sign that the economy is improving, consumers increased their borrowing in January, especially for autos and student loans.

Consumer borrowing rose $13.7 billion in January following an even larger $15.9 billion rise in December, the Federal Reserve reported on Friday.

The category that includes auto and student loans increased $13.9 billion while the category that covers credit cards fell $226 million, marking the third time in the past five months that credit card loans have declined.

The big overall increase pushed total borrowing to a record $3.11 trillion. Gains in borrowing are seen as an encouraging sign that people are more confident and willing to take on debt to finance consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.

Borrowing on credit cards plunged after the Great Recession as financial institutions tightened lending standards and households became more cautious about taking on high-interest debt at a time when millions of people were losing their jobs.

A separate quarterly report on consumer credit done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that student loan debt has been the biggest driver of borrowing since the recession officially ended in June 2009. The Fed's borrowing report tracks credit card debt, auto loans and student loans but not mortgages or home equity loans.

- The Associated Press