Debt increases as economy improves

FRESNO, California

It seems people are comfortable using their credit cards to borrow money -- a sign that many are feeling confident and optimistic about the economy.

Fresno mom Janet Keene turned to plastic when paying at the River Park Target in North Fresno. Keene and her husband have tried to limit their credit card spending lately, but it's been tough. "We charge less than we used to just because we've seen how that can add up. We did charge some Christmas gifts and things over the holiday season to be able to give our son a good Christmas."

The Federal Reserve announced earlier this week that consumer spending surged last November by $20-billion -- the largest monthly gain in a decade. Experts say people took out more loans to buy cars and S.U.V.'s.

Shoppers also swiped their credit cars repeatedly during the holiday shopping season which beat expectations with a four percent spike in 2011.

Cara Pierce is a financial counselor for Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions in East Central Fresno. She says taking on more debt can be dicey depending on your situation. "If you've got somebody that's been holding back from spending because maybe they're afraid of losing their job and now they know they're on steady ground. And they feel more confident, that's fine. But if you have somebody who's maybe already got a big burden and debt load and they're spending more. Yeah that's kind of worrisome."

Clearpoint offers free credit counseling and charges no more than $35 for debt management.

The Federal Reserve says more Americans are feeling better about the economy and taking on debt after seeing unemployment rates drop slightly to 8.5 percent. It's the lowest number in nearly three years.

But it's not low enough to encourage Janet Keene to spend more in 2012. "I'd like to think it's getting better but we don't feel it yet."

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