Subprime Loans Fall, Easing Concerns Over Borrowers’ Ability to Pay Them

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The share of subprime auto loans fell to a 10-year low in the first quarter, according to Experian’s first-quarter “State of the Automotive Finance Market” report, easing fears that borrowers were finding it more difficult to pay those kinds of loans.

The total share of subprime and deep subprime loans declined to 24.1% in the first quarter from 26.5% a year ago. The 30-day delinquency rate dropped to 9.96% from 2.1% in the first quarter of 2016.

Industry watchers will likely be reassured by the Experian findings, especially in the wake of concerns raised late last year by the New York Federal Reserve Bank that more Americans were finding it difficult to pay subprime loans.

Subprime loans are offered to those who do not qualify for prime rate loans. Subprime loans typically have a higher interest rate than prime rate loans.

The subprime market is much smaller than the housing market, and even if there was a problem in the sector, lenders are much better capitalized to handle any crisis.

Even so, the New York Federal Reserve Bank was concerned about a possible problem in subprime lending in a note last November:

The data suggest some notable deterioration in the performance of subprime auto loans. This translates into a large number of households, with roughly six million individuals at least ninety days late on their auto loan payments. Even though the balances of subprime loans are somewhat smaller on average, the increased level of distress associated with subprime loan delinquencies is of significant concern, and likely to have ongoing consequences for affected households.

Credit scores rose during the most recent reporting period. The average credit score on a new-vehicle loan was 717 in the quarter, a gain of five points, according to Experian. For used vehicles, credit scores added seven points to 652.

Superprime and prime share for new and used loans and leases increased. Superprime share was 19.7%, up about two percentage points, while prime added a point to 39.7%.

Borrowers with a credit score of 600 or below made up 61.1% of finance companies’ originations.

The average new-vehicle loan term rose slightly in the quarter to 68.5 months, compared with 68.1 months a year previous. The average loan term for all used vehicles sold by franchised dealerships and independents was 63.8 months, compared with 63.3 months a year earlier.

The 73- to 84-month loan category for new vehicles rose 3.6 percentage points to 34.9%.

Among used cars, the 73- to 84-month segment grew 2.3 percentage points to 19.5%.