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Fed: Credit Card Debt Rises for 1st Time Since 2008

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After two and a half years of charging less, Americans’ credit card debt rose in December for the first time since 2008, according to new data released Monday by the Federal Reserve.

Revolving debt, which mostly means credit card charges, rose by $2.3 billion in December to $800.5 billion, a 3.5% increase from the previous month. It was the first increase since August 2008, when consumer credit card debt reached a record $973.6 billion.

Since then our credit card debt dropped $175.6 billion, hitting a low ebb $798.2 billion in November 2008.

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Total debt also has begun creeping back up. All kinds of debt, including credit cards, student loans, car loans and mortgages, grew $6 billion, or 3%, to $2.41 trillion in December.

The increase in debt, especially credit cards, corresponds with a big spurt of holiday shopping. Consumer spending stayed relatively flat throughout most of 2010, according to a report by the National Retail Federation, but grew by 5.7% to $462 billion in November and December.

That far exceeded the federation’s forecast of 3.3%, and represents the biggest increase in holiday spending since 2004, when sales grew by 5.9%.

But many economists believe the December increase in spending and debt may be just a blip, and that consumers will continue tightening their belts and paying down credit card debt into 2011.

“While the worst appears to be behind us, we are not out of the woods yet,” Jack Kleinhenz, the retail federation’s chief economist, said in a press release.

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