Americans are slowly borrowing more to finance purchases like homes and cars.
Household debt, which includes mortgages, credit cards, auto loans and student loans, rose 0.3 percent or $31 billion to $11.34 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2012, the first fundamental increase since the third quarter of 2008, when the debt reached $12.68 trillion.
During the fourth quarter of last year, auto loans increased $15 billion, student loans increased $10 billion, and credit cards increased $5 billion, according to the quarterly survey by Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
"The data provides early evidence that consumers may be reaching the end of the four-year deleveraging cycle, though we'll need to see if this is sustained in upcoming quarters," said Andrew Haughwout, vice president and economist at the New York Fed. "At the same time, we observed mixed developments--mortgage originations increased and fewer accounts entered the foreclosure pipeline but delinquency rates remain considerably higher than pre-crisis levels."
The report also said that 8.6 percent of total debt was in some stage of delinquency. This is down from 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter. Delinquency rates also improved for mortgages, dropping from 5.9
percent in the third quarter to 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter.
At $783 billion, outstanding auto loans are the highest in almost four years.
Outstanding student loan debt increased $10 billion from the third quarter to $966 billion. Student loan delinquencies increased again to 11.7 percent.