Americans' borrowing fell by $7.2 billion at an annual rate in October, the biggest amount on record, the Federal Reserve reported.

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WASHINGTON — Consumer borrowing plunged in October by a record amount in dollar terms, reflecting a big drop in demand for auto loans.

The Federal Reserve reported Wednesday that Americans’ borrowing fell by $7.2 billion at an annual rate in October, the biggest amount on record, with much of that decline reflecting a record drop of $5.6 billion, at an annual rate, in the category that includes auto loans.

The declines were a drop of 4 percent in overall borrowing, the biggest setback in nearly 15 years, and a decline of 4.9 percent in the category that includes auto loans, the biggest drop in 13 years.

The big drop took analysts by surprise. They had been expecting that consumer spending would rise at an annual rate of $5 billion in October.

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The decline in borrowing was certain to spark concerns about how much spending consumers plan on doing during the current holiday shopping season.

The nation’s retailers reported a mixed start to the shopping season in November with consumers willing to spend but only when they found bargains.

The weakness in borrowing comes at a time when Americans’ are shouldering record-high levels of consumer debt and personal savings rates have fallen to record lows.

The 4 percent drop in consumer credit followed a 2.2 percent increase in September while the 4.9 percent drop in auto loans and other non-revolving credit followed a 1.1 percent decline in September. These loans had shot up by 6.2 percent in August as consumers responded to attractive incentive offers.