Car loan terms hit record lengths

Kevin G. Hall
McClatchy Washington Bureau

Longer-term loans represented a larger-than-ever portion of auto lending during the first three months of 2015, an influential research group reported last week.

The average loan term for new and used vehicles reached all-time highs of 67 months and 62 months respectively, Experian Automotive said in its State of the Automotive Finance Market for the first quarter of 2015.

Additionally, loans with longer-than-normal terms, from 73 to 84 months, also set a record representing 29.5 percent of all vehicles financed during the quarter. That’s the highest level since records were kept beginning in 2006, and is up almost 19 percent from the same three months of 2014.

McClatchy reported last August on this troubling trend of longer loan terms, with experts warning that poorer consumers will have debt rolled into the next loan and fall deeper into a downward debt spiral.

The loan terms are manageable for many consumers but bear watching, said Melinda Zabritski, senior director of Experian Automotive.

“While longer term loans are growing, they do not necessarily represent an ominous sign for the market,” she said in a statement accompanying Monday’s report, noting longer terms keep monthly payments manageable. “It is critical for consumers to understand that if they take a long-term loan, they need to keep the car longer or could face negative equity should they chose to trade it in after only a few years.”

The average amount financed and the average monthly payment for new vehicles also increased to record terrain during the first quarter, Experian Automotive said.

The average new vehicle loan was $28,711, compared to $27,612 during the first three months of last year. The average monthly payment for new vehicles rose to $485 from $474 in the first quarter of 2014.