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Over Half a Million Americans 60 Days Late on Car Payments

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Mini's sitting on dealer showroom floor

Image: David Zalubowski (AP)

Expensive new car prices are tough enough to swallow. But the price of vehicles in general have been relatively high, with the average price of a new car hitting over $48,000 in July, and continuing to hover there; used car prices are averaging almost $31,000. It hasn’t deterred people from buying them, but it turns out many owners may be in over their heads. The number of delinquent auto loans has increased substantially, to 1.65 percent, as pandemic forgiveness programs come to an end, CNBC News reports. And while that doesn’t sound like a big number to worry about, it’s the highest percentage of delinquencies in over a decade.

Data from TransUnion shows that about 200,000 people took advantage of pandemic auto loan accommodations during the early days of the pandemic. These programs were put in place to protect people whose income had been affected after losing their job or any other ill-effects of the pandemic.

Those programs have since ended, bringing those owners to a harsh reality. Those same 200,000 people who took advantage of the program, are now 60 days delinquent on their auto loans, according to TransUnion. Another 100,000 loans are also 60 days delinquent but are in similarly designed accommodation programs that continue to keep their cars from being repossessed.

While the country experiences some of the highest delinquency rates on auto loans (and accompanying rising rates of auto loans), the vice president of TransUnion, Satyan Merchant, thinks the auto market still remains healthy, for now. “If we get into a position where employment starts to be a challenge in the United States and unemployment increases, that is when the industry will really start to be concerned about a consumer’s ability to pay their auto loans,” he said to CNBC.

However, he loses sight of the fact that employment doesn’t necessarily mean someone can’t be late on a car payment. People are still buying vehicles and getting themselves into risky financial situations doing it. Auto loan interest rates have gone way up, with the average rate for new vehicles hitting 5.2 percent in September and near subprime around 9.7 percent for used cars. To make matters worse, many buyers are willing to accept longer and longer loan terms, upwards of 84 months, to make these payments work for budgets. Automakers seem to be encouraging it. Go to any build and price tool for something a Ford F-150 or Chevy Tahoe and payment terms for financing will default to 72 or 84 months. That’s 6-7 years of payments.

People really need to think things through when purchasing a vehicle and make sure what they’re buying works for them financially. I know it’s hard to resist that shiny new metal toy and not buy a car impulsively that you really can’t afford. In some cases, folks have had little-to-no choice because of the state of the market and they need a car to get them to and from places. But if you can, try to avoid getting yourself into a loan situation you know you can’t get out of. It’s only going to hurt you more later on.

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