It was halfway down an email that was anonymously forwarded to me a few weeks ago, buried between torpid paragraphs grown thick and encrusted with the deliberately Byzantine language of Wall Street analysis. And it said something like this:
In Detroit, Michigan thus far in 2017, nearly one in eight of all available civil lawsuits filed in the city involve (this firm) suing borrowers. Overall, 72% of these lawsuits resulted in the company garnishing the wages or tax refunds of borrowers. In essence, the company is a new kind of hybrid: a debt collector that originates its own loans — a combination that has proved extraordinarily profitable for investors as the business of lending to troubled borrowers has surged since the financial crisis.
A debt collector that originates its own loans, generating more than 10 percent of all civil lawsuits in Detroit. Something wicked this way comes.
GPS tracking devices are a common sight in cars sold by “Buy Here Pay Here” dealers, and some are even showing up at franchise dealers. A lot of speculation exists about how the devices work and what they can actually track, but most of it comes from third-party reports.
Working as a tracking device installer for a brief period of time gave me an inside view of that market, allowing me to share what actually goes on behind the scenes.
Is there any lower form of life in the automotive biosphere than the buy-here-pay-here dealership operators?
It’s hard to see them as anything other than rent-seeking scumbags who inflate the market for inexpensive used cars, then turn around and sell those used cars to the poorest and most unfortunate members of our society for prices that are often multiples of the acquisition cost. There is literally no ethical reason for them to exist; most of the time the “down payment” charged by these dealers is more or less the true value of the car. Everything that comes afterwards is just tasty cake topping — and if the working mother or fixed-income older person buying from them misses the very last weekly payment, they can repossess the car and sell it all over again on the same ridiculous terms.
In a world without buy-here-pay-here dealers, the transaction prices of low-cost cars would eventually settle to the point where they could be bought for the “down payments” being handed over today. In fact, I’ve heard BHPH operators brag about making money on the down payment alone. The difference between one of these people and the victims of their operations, of course, is that the former has access to capital and an entry into the protected world of auto auctions.
You’ll often hear these dealers tell stories about how they “help their community.” The members of the community, of course, know better. They can see the BHPH dealers living high on the hog many miles away from the low-income areas in which the lots are deliberately placed right next to liquor stores and lottery ticket providers. So it’s no wonder they feel no sense of loyalty to their “dealers” and will often make the cars disappear without further payment if they can. To combat this, the BHPH people will often have remotely-operated ignition blocks installed into their vehicles. If you don’t make the payment, or if the dealer fails to record the payment correctly, your car is shut off — regardless of where you are or what you need to do with the car next. If you don’t deal with the bottom feeders of the auto biz, you’ve probably never seen one.
That might be about to change.
Many people rely on title loans when money is tight, regardless of their infamous predatory nature and high interest rates. However, getting that loan is much like playing Russian Roulette — and with similar odds. According to a recent PEW study, one out of every nine title loans results in a repossession, with the titled vehicle eventually heading to auction.
Recently, I received a notice that a large title loan vendor was to auction off over 500 vehicles. My curiosity got the better of me. Armed with the auction run list and a VIN history tool, I decided to take a look at what ends up at these auctions and how they get there.
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.
March was the 5th straight month of a SAAR above 15 million vehicles. Industry analysts have explained the strength of the market in a number of ways. The need to replace older vehicles is one (new car sales were hit hard during the recession as consumers held on to their vehicles for longer. This also caused used car prices to skyrocket, something TTAC has been documenting), while others have cited increasing fleet demand, and the desire to replace vehicles damaged in Hurricane Sandy.
But one factor that is just starting to get attention outside of TTAC is sub-prime financing. Sub-prime lending, which involves giving high-interest loans to customers with poor credit scores, is driving the SAAR in a big way, by letting buyers with poor credit purchase new cars. In turn, the sub-prime bubble is being driven by Wall Street, whose clients cannot get enough of financial instruments backed by sub-prime auto loans.