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Economy in Brief

U.S. Consumer Credit Usage Unexpectedly Pared Back During March
by Tom Moeller  May 7, 2020

• As consumers spend less, they use less credit.

• Credit cards were pocketed ... for the time being.

With the job picture eroding and storefronts shuttering, consumers acted rationally. Consumer credit outstanding declined $12.0 billion (+3.8% y/y) during March following a $19.9 billion February rise, revised from $22.3 billion. It was the largest monthly decline since February 2010, just after the last recession. A $15.0 billion gain had been expected by the Action Economics Forecast Survey.

Revolving consumer credit balances declined a record $28.2 billion (+0.5% y/y) in March after rising $3.3 billion in February. Credit provided by depository institutions, which makes up 90% of revolving balances, grew a lessened 0.6% y/y. Credit union borrowing rose a weaker 4.5% y/y and finance company loans fell 13.0% y/y. Each of these lenders registered drastic m/m cutbacks.

Nonrevolving credit usage rose $16.1 billion (4.9% y/y) during March after a similar February increase. Borrowing from the federal government, which issues over 40% of nonrevolving credit, grew a greatly increased 7.3% y/y. Depository institution loans (29% of credit) gained a lessened 6.6% y/y. Finance company borrowing (16.0% of loans) eased 0.2% y/y and credit union borrowing (14.0% of loans) rose 3.6% y/y.

These Federal Reserve Board figures are break-adjusted and calculated by Haver Analytics. The breaks in the series in 2005, 2010 and 2015 are the result of the incorporation of the Census and Survey of Finance Companies, as well as changes in the seasonal adjustment methodology.

The consumer credit data are available in Haver's USECON database. The Action Economics figures are contained in the AS1REPNA database.

Consumer Credit Outstanding (M/M Chg, SA) Mar Feb Jan Mar % y/y 2019 2018 2017
Total ($ bil) -12.0 19.9 10.3 3.8 4.5 4.8 5.0
   Nonrevolving 16.1 16.6 13.7 4.9 4.8 5.4 4.9
   Revolving -28.2 3.3 -3.4 0.5 3.8 3.1 5.6
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