US Bancorp reported higher-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday, aided by lower loan losses and the largest increase in new loans since the fourth quarter of 2008.

The bank released $25 million in loan loss reserves and said net charge-offs -- or defaulted loans the bank has written off its books -- declined 5.8 percent, in the latest sign some large regional bank lenders' balance sheets are improving more than three years after the 2008 financial crisis.

The reserve release was the first by US Bancorp since the financial crisis began.

The improving credit picture was paired with the bank making more new loans.

US Bancorp generated $65.6 billion in new loan growth during fourth quarter, the highest level in three years.

Commercial loans grew by an average of 2 percent during the quarter.

The Minneapolis-based bank said net income rose to $974 million, or 49 cents per share, from $602 million, or 30 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts on average had forecast net income of 46 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue increased 7.9 percent to $4.7 billion.

The Midwestern bank has been one of the strongest regional lenders since the 2008 financial crisis, with relatively low levels of loan losses compared with its peers.

Shares of US Bancorp were down 0.4 percent at $27.20 in trading before the market opened.

(Reporting by Joe Rauch; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Dave Zimmerman)