The Road to Auto Debt

Julie Livingston and Andrew Ross at n+1:

FOR MANY AMERICANS, it is easier to acquire a new car than to find a rental apartment they can afford. But there is a high price, in sheer debt, to pay for getting that ride on the road. The average monthly loan payment for a new vehicle recently passed the $700 mark, a figure that does not include insurance and the steep costs of maintenance. Currently, Americans owe 1.52 trillion dollars in auto debt—a staggering sum that has doubled over the last decade, due in large part to the migration of subprime loans from the housing to the auto market.

Buyers routinely drive off the lot in cars that are beyond their means. This is especially true for the more than one in three American consumers with subprime credit scores, which a cycle of bad auto debt will only tank further. No other asset loses value so rapidly, or is financed by such loosely regulated lenders, prone to predatory practices. With loan terms now being stretched to more than 84 months, many owners never succeed in paying off their debt.

more here.