WASHINGTON -- Consumers increasing their spending by 1 percent in July, the largest advance in nine months, the Commerce Department reported today.

Consumer spending in July went up twice as fast as the 0.5 percent increase posted in the previous month.

Retail sales were solid in July, helped out by free-financing for cars. Home sales for the month were also strong.

The report showed that consumers ratcheted up spending on big-ticket ''durable'' goods, including cars and appliances, by 3.7 percent in July, following a 1.6 percent increase in June.

Spending on durables, such as food and clothes, and services each rose by 0.6 percent in July. That compared with a 0.7 percent advance in durables in June and a 0.2 percent increase in spending on services.