The percentage of car loan delinquencies is rising, but... The percentage of car loan delinquencies is rising, but the auto industry is still expecting healthy growth in 2013. (AP photo).
The percentage of 60-day delinquencies on car loans nudged upward in the final months of 2012, the first increase in delinquency rates since the Great Recession.

Delinquencies rose 0.02 percent year over year in the fourth quarter, according to an industry analysis released by Experian Automotive on Friday. Despite the uptick, Experian says the auto-loan business is still healthy.

"When you take a step back and look at the market compared to where it was three years ago, we still have remarkable stability," said Melinda Zabritski, director of automotive credit for Experian.

By comparison, three years ago, 30-day delinquencies rose to 3.06 percent in the second quarter of 2009 and 60-day delinquencies were 0.80 percent. Combined, they accounted for $25.5 billion in at-risk loans, according to Experian.

Today's report is the first time since the fourth quarter of ''09 that either 30- or 60-day loan delinquencies rose year over year. But it's a mixed message: while 60-day rates were slightly up, the 30-day delinquency rate dropped from 2.79 in the fourth quarter of 2011 to 2.72 in 2012.

Loosened lending restrictions have helped the auto industry recover from the depths of the recession. Most industry analysts are predicting that more than 15 million cars and light trucks will be sold in 2013.

What can you do if you fall behind?

1. If you fall behind in your car payment, do not hide from the finance company. Call them, and ask to speak to a loan counselor. If it's a temporary problem, they will often give you a 30-day grace period. If it is a bigger problem, talk to them about the situation and see how you can avoid a black mark on your credit history.

2. See if you can refinance the car. Le's say you are paying $300 a month on a vehicle that still has two or three years left on the loan. Check to see if you can refinance the car to lower your payments by extending the loan period a couple of years.

3. It sometimes happens that the car you are paying off is worth more than you owe. If that is the case, you should sell the car and see if you can replace it with something used until you are back on your feet. Most often, though, people owe more than the car is worth.

4. You might be able to get someone to take over the loan for you, but that will require transferring title and actually selling it. Talk to your lender about restrictions on such a transaction.

5. Why do you want to avoid default and repo at all costs? Two reasons. It messes up your credit rating, making all the borrowing you will do for some time more expensive. Also, after a repo, the finance company sells the car at auction, often for less than it's worth. And you, the owner, will be on the hook for the balance, and with no car. That's a terrible outcome.

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