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Auto loan delinquencies jump in 1st quarter

The rate of auto loan payments that were 60 days or more late skyrocketed nearly 28 percent in the first three months of the year, compared with the same period in 2008.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Those "green shoots" of economic rebound don't have very deep roots yet.

While some economic indicators are pointing to better days ahead, data show consumers continued to struggle to make loan payments in the first quarter.

The latest evidence showed in the rate of auto loan payments that were 60 days or more late, which skyrocketed nearly 28 percent in the first three months of the year, compared with the same period in 2008.

Credit reporting agency TransUnion said the 60-day auto delinquency rate rose to 0.83 percent from January through March, compared with 0.65 percent last year. While still relatively low, the rising figure shows that "consumers continue to be stressed," said Peter Turek, TransUnion's automotive vice president.

The increase echoes TransUnion data released in recent weeks that showed sharp jumps in first-quarter delinquency for mortgages and credit cards.

The rate at which people fell two months behind on their mortgage payments went up for the ninth-straight quarter, to 5.22 percent for the first three months of the year. That's 62 percent higher than the first quarter of 2008.

The delinquency rate for bank-issued credit cards rose 11 percent from last year, to 1.32 percent for January through March.

TransUnion compiles its data by randomly sampling records from its database of 27 million consumer credit reports.

Taken together, the figures indicate continued struggles to pay household bills as the unemployment rate jumped from 7.2 percent in December to 8.5 percent in March.

Auto delinquencies did edge down .03 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008 to the 2009 first quarter. But Turek said there is a strong seasonal pattern for late auto payments, and the slight improvement was not as strong as is typical.

The state with the highest auto loan delinquency is Mississippi, at 1.49 percent, followed by Louisiana at 1.4 percent.

Of the four states hit hardest by the mortgage meltdown, only California at 1.33 percent and Nevada at 1.28 percent, are in the top five in auto loan delinquencies.

As with other types of loans, South Dakota and North Dakota have the fewest delinquent auto loans, at 0.34 and 0.35 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, as auto sales continue to be depressed, the average outstanding balance on auto loans slipped 1.9 percent, to $12,596 in the first quarter. The lowest average auto debt was in Nebraska at $10,629.

The overall decline reflects the tight credit market and few loans being made, Turek said, along with a greater reluctance among consumers to take on new debt. From the first quarter of 2008 to the 2009 first quarter, the number of new auto loans plunged 40.5 percent, he said. Meanwhile, the average auto payment fell nearly 9 percent, to $361 from $395 a year ago.

TransUnion forecasts the rate of auto loan delinquencies will continue to rise through the end of the year, reaching about 1 percent. That's the same level seen during the 2001 recession, Turek said. The agency also expects mortgage and credit card delinquencies to continue rising through the end of 2009.