According to preliminary data from Reuters and the University of Michigan, U.S. consumer sentiment fell sharply from March's final 69.5 to a score of 63.2, the lowest level since March 1982 when the index stood at 62.2.

Economists had been expecting a deterioration to 69.0.

The current conditions index fell from 84.2 in March to 78.4 in April while the economic outlook index fell from 60.1 to 53.4.

The one-year inflation expectation jumped to 4.8% after rising to 4.3% in March.

Prior to the release, many economists had been calling for a downside surprise to the indicator based on poor data from earlier in March.

"The consensus forecast was always way too optimistic given the huge drop in the Conference Board's index, and this survey has gone some way to closing the gap," said Ian Shepherdson of HFE.

"Bearing in mind that more than half of all consumption is non-discretionary (food, energy, housing, etc.) this means discretionary spending will fall at a 1% rate or more, something we haven't seen since 1991," he added. "And there's no sign confidence has hit bottom yet."

The Conference Board's consumer confidence index unexpectedly declined to a reading of 64.5 in March despite forecasts for a reading of 73.5.

By Erik Kevin Franco and edited by Stephen Huebl