8 years to pay off a car? A report by the Wall Street Journal claims that in Q4 of 2012, the average car loan stretched out to 65 months, or just over 5 years. Loan terms were being stretched out over increasingly longer terms too, with credit firm Experian reporting that nearly 1 in 5 car loans had terms between 73 and 84 months long, with some stretching for as long as 97 months.
So why stretch out loans for such a long period of time? Per the WSJ
“[the] 75-month loan illustrates two important trends rippling through the U.S. auto industry. Rising new-car prices and competition among lenders to attract borrowers is pushing loans to lengthier terms. In part, banks see the longer terms as a way to attract buyers, by keeping monthly payments under $500 a month.”
Among the culprits cited by the WSJ are increased credit, low delinquincy rates on car loans and, according to banks, minimal downside as far as auto lending goes.
Melinda Zabritski, director of automotive credit for Experian, said the greater availability of credit is helping the surge in new car sales. The percentage of subprime loans isn’t far below the record level of 2007, and the length of loans is growing, she said…With increased competition between the banks for business, offering loans longer than 72 months, or subprime loans is one way to compete for new borrowers. “Consumers tend to be monthly payment buyers. One way that lenders compete is to offer longer term loans,” Ms. Zabritski said.
Interestingly, Zabritski claims that buyers qualifying for the longer loans tend to be those with good credit scores buying more expensive vehicles. But what nobody answered is “where is all this credit coming from?” As per our last report on auto lending, the appetite for auto back securities is enormous, and Wall Street cannot get enough of them. Sub-prime loans in particular are a favorite. At this point, nobody, not even Zabritski, is denying that the expansion of credit for automobile buyers is driving new car sales. The question is, what happens when the music stops?