Car purchases and student loans were the biggest culprits in November, as U.S. consumer debt reached a record high (adjusted for the season) of $2.77 trillion. Credit card debt, on the other hand, was 16.5 percent lower than it was four years ago.
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This shift reflects a growing number of unemployed Americans who are going back to school, as well as borrowing lessons learned from the all-too-recent Great Recession. In 2012, auto sales topped 14 million units for an increase of 13.4 percent, a five-year milestone possibly influenced by Hurricane Sandy.
Job growth — 161,000 jobs were added in November, and 155,000 in December, reportedly — combined with lower gas prices contributed to increased consumer spending during the holiday season. Some of this slowed a bit amid the tense fiscal talks in Washington.
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