Americans are still buying cars at near-record levels, and spending more money than ever to do so. The latest indicator of that comes in a report from Experian Automotive that shows US car buyers have borrowed more money than ever to finance their automotive purchases.
Outstanding balances reached $987 billion in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to the company's most recent State of the Automotive Finance Market report, released earlier this week. That's an 11.5 percent increase from the previous year, and the highest level of debt on record since Experian began tracking the data in 2006.
"It is critically important for consumers to stay on top of their monthly payments to keep the automotive market running on all cylinders." - Melinda Zabritski
"The boost in automotive sales has contributed to a strong quarter for all lender types across the industry," said Melinda Zabritski, senior director of automotive finance for Experian. "That said, while loan balances continue to rise and funding may be more easily attainable, it is critically important for consumers to stay on top of their monthly payments to keep the automotive market running on all cylinders."
There's mixed data on whether that's happening. On one hand, lending to subprime and deep sub-prime buyers has increased, according to Experian. But findings from the report show delinquencies have remained about the same – 30-day delinquencies have fallen to 2.57 percent from 2.62 percent year over year, while 60-day have shown a modest rise from 0.72 percent to 0.72 percent in the same timeframe.
The loans come as the US unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest levels since before the Great Recession. The Department of Labor reports the level fell to 4.9 percent in January.