Captive Lenders Winning the Fight for New Auto Loans

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Banks are losing auto finance market share to captive lenders and finance companies, according to a new report from the credit bureau Experian.

Banks made 34.7% of all auto loans in the third quarter, down from 35.4% a year ago, while both captive lenders and finance companies increased their shares, according to the Experian auto finance report, which was released Wednesday.

Captives – the lending companies owned by automakers – were particularly strong in new-car loans, a market in which they have nearly regained the ground they lost during the recession. They made 52% of new-car loans on the quarter, up from 50% a year ago, while banks made 33.7%, down from 34.5% in last year's third quarter.

It's the strongest showing for the captives since the financial crisis, Experian said.

"Captive lending has made a comeback since suffering a steep drop-off caused by declining new sales and lender-type shifts during the recession," Melinda Zabritski, director of automotive finance at Experian, said in the news release.

Experian's report shows a continuation of two trends that will surprise no one who has been watching the auto finance market in recent years: car buyers are increasing their use of financing, and banks and other lenders are stretching loan terms.

Eighty-seven percent of new cars and 55% of used cars were bought using financing in the third quarter, both all-time highs. As car prices continue to rise, customers are also increasing their reliance on leasing in order to keep their monthly payments down. Twenty-seven percent of all new-car transactions were leases, the highest percentage ever and up from 25% a year ago.

Meanwhile, lenders are stretching loans more than ever as car prices rise. The percentage of customers taking out five- or six-year loans hit an all-time high. Longer leases rose even faster – leases of six to seven years hit all-time highs both for new cars (28%) and used cars (16%).

Banks are also extending more loans to riskier buyers. Banks financed 9.6% of new-car purchases for the riskiest slice of customers, those with credit scores below 600, up from 8.8% a year ago.

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