Americans borrow record amounts for auto loans even as interest rates rise

  • The average new vehicle loan hit a record high $31,099, Experian said.
  • For used autos, the average loan rose to a record of $19,589.
  • In the fourth quarter, the average monthly payment for a new vehicle hit an all-time high of $515.
  • The average used auto loan payment was $371 per month, also a record.
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Despite rising interest rates, Americans are borrowing more than ever to buy new and used vehicles.

Analysis of auto loans in the fourth quarter by Experian shows the average new vehicle loan hit a record high $31,099, while the average loan for a used auto climbed to a record of $19,589.

"I think we're certainly at a point where affordability is a question," said Melinda Zabritski, Experian's senior director of automotive finance solutions. "When you look at how much income you need to support that payment, it certainly is higher than your average individual income."

In the fourth quarter, the average monthly payment for a new vehicle hit an all-time high of $515, while the average used auto loan payment hit a record of $371 per month.

The jump in payments and loans extends the trend of consumers paying more and taking longer to pay for the cars and trucks they're buying. On average, Americans are extending a new car loans over 69 months, according to Experian. The report shows the average used vehicle loan has a term of just over 64 months.

Consumers are stretching out their loans because prices paid for new vehicles has climbed more than 10 percent over the last five years. In 2017 the average price paid for a new vehicle was an all-time high of $35,176, according to Edmunds.com. That price is up from $33,532 in 2015 and $31,773 in 2013.

One reason people are spending more is because they are buying more trucks and SUVs, which are sold at higher price points. Another factor, especially in the last year, is rising interest rates.

"For some buyers, this is going to come as a surprise," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of Industry Analysis for Edmunds.com. "For buyers with average credit scores, the rates are higher than a couple years ago and that will mean a higher monthly payment."

In February, the average interest rate for new financed vehicles was 5.2 percent, up from 4.9 percent a year ago and 4.4 percent five years ago.

"We're starting to see a trickle-down effect from the rate increases happening at the federal level," said Caldwell.