Auto Financing at Record Highs

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Whether U.S. consumers are purchasing a new car or a used model, the odds are very high that an auto loan is involved. A full 84% of all new car buyers and a record-high 52% of used car buyers financed vehicle purchases in the fourth quarter of 2014.

The average loan amount for a new vehicle reached a record high of $28,381, up $950 (about 3.3%) year-over-year and up $582 compared with the third quarter. Loans to purchase a used car averaged $18,411, up $437 year-over-year. The data were reported earlier this month by Experian Automotive.

Leasing also continues to increase, according to Experian, and that may be due to falling lease payments. The average monthly lease payment decreased $12 from a year ago to reach $408 in the fourth quarter. Experian also noted that the average credit score among lessees fell two points to 717.

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Other data points culled from the study:

  • The average credit score for a new-vehicle loan dropped 3 points to 712
  • The average credit score for a used vehicle loan increased 2 points to 648
  • In the fourth quarter, the average monthly payment for a new vehicle hit $482 — the highest level on record
  • Interest rates for new-vehicle loans inched up to 4.56%
  • Loan terms for new and used vehicles increased from a year ago to reach 66 months and 62 months, respectively

New car sales have slowed in the first two months of 2015 in what is widely regarded as a typical seasonal slowdown. As vehicles get more expensive, the loan periods get longer. Ally Financial Inc. (NYSE: ALLY) last month began offering 84-month loans to some customers. Toyota Motor Corp.’s (NYSE: TM) financial services group has offered the seven-year loans since 2007, but calculates that the long-term loans account for less than 3% of all its loans.

The seven-year loans allow buyers to finance a more expensive car while keeping monthly payments under control. The downside for dealers is that the long-term borrowers are less likely to turn around and buy a new car as soon. Given the reliability improvements in modern cars, the average age of all light vehicles in the United States at last count was 11.4 years, and that very reliability also keeps buyers out of dealer showrooms.

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