Total U.S. consumer credit rose $4.96 billion in January, its first rise in a year and the largest for any month since mid-2008, Federal Reserve data showed on Friday.

The unexpected monthly gain in outstanding consumer credit more than reversed a revised $4.57 billion drop in December credit and was centered in so-called nonrevolving credit, which includes items like loans to buy new cars and boats.

Revolving credit, a category that takes in credit cards, shrank for a 16th month in a row. Wall Street analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast that January consumer credit would contract by $4.5 billion rather than rise.

The last time that overall consumer credit rose more strongly than in January was July 2008, when it jumped by $7.29 billion before beginning a lengthy string of contractions as a financial crisis swept through the U.S. economy

Nonrevolving credit rose by $6.62 billion in January after growing $4.86 billion in December. The Fed did not offer any explanation for the rise and car sales have been soft so far this year.

Revolving credit decreased by $1.67 billion after a huge $9.43-billion decline in December. Consumers have been cautious in their discretionary spending and banks have been more discriminating in offering credit and more ready to hike fees on credit card use.

(Reporting by Glenn Somerville; Editing by Diane Craft)