Used-car purchases drove an increase in automobile financing last year, but banks' share of the market dipped, a study has found.

An annual automobile finance study by the Consumer Bankers Association found that total outstanding automobile credit in the United States - not including leases - rose 11% last year to $354.3 billion from $319.7 billion in 1994. But the sale of new vehicles fell 2% to 15.1 million units during the same period.

Although total automobile credit in 1995 nearly reached the peak level seen in 1989, the bank share of that market has been slipping. According to the study, banks held 42.1% of total auto credit last year, down from 44.4% in 1994.

The study said banks have lost business to credit unions, which have steadily increased their market share since the late 1980s to the current 22.4%.

"In many cases, they are financing for their members, but in other cases they are financing for people who sign up for credit union membership in the dealerships," said Ann L. Tonks, director of BankAmerica Corp.'s national dealer lending division. "In some markets, they are extremely strong."

The study, conducted by Purdue University's Credit Research Center, concluded that the rise in total automobile credit "very likely reflects the growth in financing of late-model used cars, many of which have come off leases and have low mileages."

Robert W. Johnson, a senior research associate with the Credit Research Center and one of the study authors, said, "You didn't have a lot of late- model cars coming into the market five years ago because you didn't have the leasing activity."

The Federal Reserve Board, which originally gathered much of the study data, does not include auto leases in its own studies of consumer credit. Industry sources have estimated that leasing accounts for 28% to 30% of all sales of light trucks and cars.

The study blames lackluster new car sales on higher interest rates and bigger individual tax payments in 1995. The higher tax payments follow the Clinton Administration's deficit reduction program, which eliminated many deductions.

According to the study, rates for auto loans at commercial banks rose an average 202 basis points between May 1994 and May 1995, which in turn increased monthly payments and lowered consumer willingness to buy new cars. Rates at finance companies jumped 151 basis points during the period.

Looking forward, Ms. Tonks said she expects the entire auto financing industry to report another good year in 1996, despite concerns about rising consumer debt and bankruptcies.

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