Car loan statistics

How much debt do Americans take on to get behind the wheel?

Cars with a magnifying glass

Americans had $1.3 trillion in auto loan debt in 2019, according to an Experian study published in March 2020 — that’s an 81% increase since 2009. And Americans also owed more on average than a decade ago. By the end of 2019, they owed $19,231 on average — up 25% from 2009.

Auto debt, along with other types of debt, have been on an upward trend for the past several years. But it’s unclear if this will continue into 2020, since the coronavirus outbreak dealt an unexpected blow to the economy.

How many Americans have car loans?

If you were in the hot seat, could you guess the percentage of Americans that are currently paying off a car loan? Around 35% of American adults were relying on an auto loan to pay for a car in 2019, according to a study by the Federal Reserve.

While the number of car loan accounts have increased each year since 2011, the percentage of Americans with car loans has actually decreased over the past few years.

Number of car loan accounts in the US

YearCar loan accounts in millions
2019115.98
2018113.35
2017108.66
2016103.69
201597.14
201490.03
201385.03
201281.33
201180.24
201080.90
200983.53
200886.99
200787.25
200684.99
200582
200480.03
200374

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for 2019: Q4

Auto loans vs. other types of debt

It’s not just loans to get from Point A to Point B. Americans take on debt to buy homes, go to college and even pay for not-so-big everyday purchases.

Mortgages make up 68% of America’s debt — which makes sense, considering a house is typically the most expensive purchase people make in their lifetime.

Student loans account for 11% of personal debt, while auto loans sat at 9% in 2019 — slightly down from 2018.

The two smallest forms of debt Americans took on last year were credit cards at 6% and home equity lines of credit at 3%.

Here’s how auto loan debt figures into the total US debt balance since 2003.

Car loan percentage of total US debt balance

YearCar loan % of total US debt balance
20199.17%
20189.38%
20179.03%
20168.52%
20157.84%
20147.34%
20136.68%
20126.18%
20115.94%
20106.01%
20096.37%
20086.76%
20077.41%
20068.11%
20058.51%
20048.77%
20039.27%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for 2019: Q4

Auto loans and your credit score

Car loan borrowers had slightly stronger credit in 2019 than in previous years. The median credit score for a car loan was 717, and more than a third of borrowers had a score over 760, according to the Federal Reserve study.

Car loan originations by credit score

YearLess than 620620 to 659660 to 719720 to 759760 or higher
201919.55%10.53%21.12%15.38%34.68%
201819.33%11.57%22.04%14.07%33.06%
201719.98%12.15%22.07%14.83%30.97%
201621.08%13.16%21.81%13.88%30.07%
201522.71%13.20%21.41%13.34%29.34%
201422.06%13.16%21.52%14.01%29.24%
201321.74%13.70%21.64%13.84%29.08%
201222.04%13.13%20.65%14.46%29.71%
201119.83%12.48%21.08%15.03%31.57%
201018.62%11.20%20.69%15.68%33.81%
200918.71%10.96%20.01%16.51%33.81%
200825.17%12.36%20.46%15.14%26.88%
200728.89%12.62%20.13%14.59%23.76%
200630.00%13.97%21.4%13.91%20.72%
200526.47%13.96%22.68%14.49%22.41%
200426.21%12.95%24.77%15.55%20.51%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for 2019: Q4

These numbers comes as no surprise — having a high credit score opens you up to competitive deals from more lenders. However, car loans to borrowers with scores below 620 were more prevalent than those to borrowers with credit scores between 620 and 650. This could be because it’s uncommon for lenders to market to fair-credit borrowers.

Auto loan delinquency rates

Despite the high rate of high-credit borrowers, the number of delinquent accounts 90 days overdue has steadily risen since 2013. Just under 5% of borrowers were over 90 days delinquent in 2019.

Car loans 90+ days delinquent

YearPercentage of car loans 90+ days delinquent
20194.94%
20184.47%
20174.05%
20163.58%
20153.36%
20143.30%
20133.55%
20124.27%
20114.98%
20104.99%
20094.61%
20083.52%
20072.74%
20062.39%
20052.12%
20042.30%
20032.23%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit for 2019: Q4

It’s possible that defaults will continue to rise in 2020, thanks to an over 20% unemployment rate during the coronavirus outbreak. But even as the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in 2019 from 4.7% in 2016, Americans appeared to be struggling to keep up with their finances. Or were they taking on too much at once?

4 tips to avoid defaulting on a car loan

Setting up autopay is just one way to avoid missing a due date or payment. Other steps you can take to avoid defaulting on your car loan include:

  • Refinance your loan. If your original auto loan came with unfavorable interest rates and high fees, you might find another provider offering cheaper, more competitive terms.
  • Ask about deferment. By explaining your situation to your auto loan provider — no matter how tough the conversation — it might be willing to defer payments for a specified period, giving you time to catch up on your other financial obligations.
  • Downgrade your car. If you consistently struggle to make monthly payments, consider trading in your car for a more affordable option.
  • Get professional help. If you can’t figure out how to make your payments work, a credit counselor can guide you through planning a budget to get back on track.

Consumers default on their auto loans for reasons that include expensive fees, high interest rates or monthly payments that don’t realistically fit into a working budget. And loan approval doesn’t mean that you can afford the car you want, especially for subprime applicants approved for sky-high rates.

For media inquiries:

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Allan Givens
Public Relations Manager
203-818-2928
allan.givens@finder.com
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Nicole Gallina
Communications Coordinator
347-677-4931
nicole.gallina@finder.com
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