US sales pace kept up with auto loans boom image

A boom in auto loans continues to support a resurgence in U.S. car buying that has hit its highest sales pace since 2007.

The total amount of outstanding auto loans topped $782.9 billion as of Sept. 30, up $103 billion from the same period last year, according to Experian Automotive’s quarterly report. That total is the highest point in seven years, Experian said.

At the same time, the rate of loan payments that are more than 30 days late declined to 2.58% as of Sept. 30, compared with 2.67% a year ago. Taken together, the report shows that the lending environment continues to be very healthy for both consumers and automakers, said Melinda Zabritski, Experian’s senior director of automotive lending.

“We’ve got strong growth in portfolios, balances are growing, lenders are growing extremely well, but coupled with that we are still seeing strong payment behavior by consumers,” Zabritski said. “There are some very slight increases in delinquency rates, but at this point they are still very minor.”

According to Experian, the total outstanding balance of loans among consumers with credit scores below prime only increased slightly to 36% as of Sept. 30 from 35.9% a year ago.

Through October, consumers have purchased 13 million new cars and trucks in the U.S., up 8.4% from the same period last year. The auto industry remains on track to sell about 15.5 million new cars and trucks this year — the most since 2007.