Rate of past due auto loans rises

NEW YORK - September 1, 2009 For the quarter ended in June, the national rate of auto loans that were 60 days past due was up 7.35 percent, according to credit reporting agency TransUnion. While still a relatively low 0.73 percent, the rate rose from 0.68 percent at the same time a year ago.

Auto loan delinquencies did improve in the second quarter compared with the first quarter of 2009, when the rate was 0.83 percent.

The trend was similar to delinquency rates for credit cards and mortgages released earlier this month by TransUnion. Both of those types of credit showed marked jumps from last year, but indicated improvement from the first quarter.

Yet for auto loans, the rate's improvement in the second quarter from the first may just be seasonal, said Peter Turek, automotive vice president in TransUnion's financial services group. Consumers often catch up on past-due bills in the months between April and June as tax returns arrive and pressures from holiday spending ease.

In fact, TransUnion expects the rate to reach 0.90 percent by the end of the year, due in part to the weak labor market.

"We'd like to believe that there are hopeful signs," Turek said of the slight improvements. But he said it's too early to tell if the second-quarter delinquency rates overall indicate a stronger economy. "We're going to have to watch the rest of the movie to see the ending."

Turek noted that 42 states saw delinquencies drop from the first quarter to the second quarter, but only 10 showed year-over-year improvement.

The biggest year-over-year improvement came in Washington, D.C., where the rate plunged 70 percent to 0.42 percent from 1.41 in the 2008 period. Rhode Island's delinquency rate slid 41 percent, and Nebraska's fell 12.5 percent.

Auto loan delinquency for the second quarter was highest in Mississippi, at 1.29 percent, and Louisiana, at 1.27 percent. California was next with 1.2 percent.

The lowest delinquency rates were found in Alaska, at 0.33 percent, North Dakota, at 0.37 percent and Wyoming, 0.39 percent.

Average auto debt nationally decreased slightly to $12,560 in the second quarter, from $12,869 a year ago. That decline represents in part a tightening of credit, along with a reluctance among consumers to take on new debt amid the recession, Turek said.

However, given the popularity of the Cash for Clunkers program, he expects average auto debt will increase in the second half of the year. "It will be interesting to see, as those loan amounts start showing up in the credit files, what happens with those loans," he said.

TransUnion produces its reports by culling data from approximately 27 million anonymous, randomly sampled, individual credit files, representing approximately 10 percent of U.S. consumers with credit accounts.

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