Consumer credit rose $12.9 billion in November, the 24th straight monthly advance and biggest increase since August, the government said Monday.
The Federal Reserve said installment debt jumped 17.8 percent at an annual rate in November on top of a 15.9 percent rise in October and 14.3 percent in September.
The November increase was the largest since a $15.1 billion jump in August.
Consumer credit includes all household debt not secured by real estate, such as home equity loans and mortgages. The totals were adjusted for seasonal factors.
The latest figures are larger than economists expected. Analysts said they reflect rising car sales and increasing use of credit cards to pay for purchases as the Christmas shopping season began.
Analysts said that, while Americans are buying more on credit, the total debt does not appear to be at a dangerous level. They said much of the spending is due to heavy credit card use as a convenient substitute for cash, followed by timely payments
The use of revolving credit, including credit cards, increased 24.6 percent at an annual rate compared to 18.2 percent in October. The advance totaled $6.7 billion in November, compared to $4.9 billion the previous month. The increase also was the largest since August, when revolving credit climbed 29.8 percent.
Automobile loans were up 18 percent or $4.7 billion, compared to 10.9 percent or $2.8 billion a month earlier.
The category that includes loans for mobile homes, education, boats, trailers and vacations rose at a slower pace in November. It advanced 6.8 percent or $1.4 billion, after rising 19.3 percent or $3.9 billion.
The increases boosted total outstanding consumer credit to $904.5 billion.
Whether consumers will be able to sustain their current pace is a matter of some debate. For one thing, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates six times last year, and seems ready to do so again.