Autos

U.S. Car Buyers Lever Up to Record Levels


Anthony Gordon looks at a Ford Mustang on the showroom floor at a Ford AutoNation car dealership on Sept. 4 in North Miami, Florida

Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Anthony Gordon looks at a Ford Mustang on the showroom floor at a Ford AutoNation car dealership on Sept. 4 in North Miami, Florida

Another day, another measure of how much horsepower the U.S. car business has at the moment—this one from the House of Bernanke.

Auto-loan debt held by U.S. consumers has swelled (pdf) to $845 million, the highest level on record since the Federal Reserve started tallying car loans in 1999.

In the past quarter alone, total vehicle loans increased almost 4 percent, or $31 billion. That’s about 1.3 million Ford F-150 pickup trucks or 440,000 bare-bone Tesla sedans.

The surge continued months of momentum. In the past year, auto debt in the U.S. has surged 10 percent, to its highest level in at least a decade. No other category of borrowing posted an increase that large, though student loan debt came close with a 7.4 percent rise.

The thing is, outside of cars and college degrees, U.S. consumers have been cautious about their borrowing lately. Debt tied to credit cards and mortgages increased only slightly in the past three months. Here’s the breakdown of borrowing by category:

What’s more, U.S. car buyers are being pretty responsible, despite their spending spree. The share of vehicle loans more than three months past due fell to 3.4 percent last quarter, according to the Fed. That’s better than mortgage delinquencies (4.3 percent) and way lower than the share of tardy student loans (11.8 percent).

Kyle-stock-190
Stock is an associate editor for Businessweek.com. Twitter: @kylestock

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