Americans borrowed less for an 11th consecutive month in December, paying off credit cards while increasing borrowing for cars and other products.
The mixed picture raises hopes that Americans may soon return to spending, a necessary condition for economic recovery.
But the record 11-month decrease in overall borrowing shows consumers are still holding back amid lingering economic uncertainty and 9.7 percent unemployment.
The Federal Reserve said Friday that total borrowing dropped by $1.8 billion — far less than the revised $10.6 billion for November. It also was well below the $9 billion analysts had expected.
Borrowing on credit cards fell by $8.5 billion, while other types of loans increased by $6.8 billion.