“We’re dirty, yeah, but so are the dealers. We’re all dirty in this business.”
The petite, honest-faced young lady sitting across from me at my lunch table doesn’t look like a predator. To be fair, she isn’t. She just works for a company that’s one of the biggest subprime lenders in the country, with offices in several states. By the time a dealer calls them for a loan, they’ve already tried every traditional bank and credit union in their Rolodex.
And in exchange for a delicious burrito, she agreed to meet with me and pull back the kimono on the subprime auto lending business in the United States, a business which many in the financial sector believe to be the next big bubble.
I have a lot of questions, and she’s more than willing to answer them. I ask what sorts of credit scores they’ll approve.
“We can pretty much approve any credit score. I just approved a 413 beacon score the other day. Of course, it was a 25 percent loan. Credit is really just one piece of the puzzle,” Elizabeth* (not her real name) explains to me. “Sure, we pull TransUnion and Equifax, but we’re also looking at their obligations versus their verifiable income. Medical bills don’t count. It’s just rent plus whatever else is on their credit report.”
“Sure,” I say. “That makes sense.”
“Of course,” she continues between small bites of burrito, “if they’ve just stopped paying a bill, something other than another car loan, we don’t count that bill as part of their monthly obligations. Nobody pays student loans. They’ll have like five or six loans and won’t have paid a damn dime in months. So we don’t worry about those.”
Hang on. It gets weirder. And better.
In a perverse nexus where connected-vehicle technology, privacy and subprime lending intersect, consumers who fall behind on so much as a single payment, or even stray outside a given teritory, may find their vehicles shutdown by their lender from a digital panopticon.
In today’s General Motors digest: An ignition-related issue is quietly fixed years before the February 2014 recall; a Chinese supplier is blamed for defective switches recalled in June; Ally prepares to take flight from the Beltway; and Mark Reuss helps bring back a Corvette stolen 33 years ago.
The Dodd-Frank Act, created in the wake of the Great Recession as means to curb the practices by financial corporations that led to the Great Recession in the first place, is now being used to go after an automotive lending company in New York for stealing from its customers.
As more consumers trade-in their old vehicles for a newer model, a growing number of consumers are owing more on their trade-in than their vehicle’s actual worth.
Just over five years after the Great Recession tightened consumer lending standards on everything from cars to houses, Experian Automotive is forecasting growth in the subprime market for 2014, including longer loan terms and increased delinquencies.
According to credit reporting bureau TransUnion, auto finance has a bright future ahead in 2014, with easier access to credit and bigger loans for consumers.
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