U.S. consumers had a harder time juggling their various debts during the first quarter of 2017.
Late-payment rates for bank-issued auto loans and credit cards rose between January and March to their highest levels in more than four years, according to a new report from the American Bankers Association.
The findings show that the days of pristine consumer loan portfolios, which were an important source of the industry’s profits in the post-crisis period, are now in the past. And they reinforce a series of recent warnings about rising risks in the credit card and auto lending sectors.
During the first quarter, 2.74% of consumers with bank-issued credit cards were at least 30 days late on payments, the report found. That was up from 2.69% in the fourth quarter of last year. The last time the seasonally adjusted metric was higher was in the third quarter of 2012.
The story was similar in auto lending. The late-payment rate for bank-issued loans that rely on car dealers as intermediaries climbed to 1.83%, up from 1.75% during the previous quarter. It was the highest mark since the fourth quarter of 2012.
When asked about the findings, ABA Chief Economist James Chessen flagged auto lending as an area of particular concern. He noted that car loan terms have been lengthening during what he described as the late stages of the current economic cycle.
“There has been an increasingly aggressive approach by dealers to sell cars,” Chessen said. “And I think it’s those very times that buyers can get too much enthusiasm for that new-car smell.”
Overall, 30-day delinquency rates rose in seven of the 11 loan categories tracked by the banking trade group, which bases its findings on a periodic survey of bankers.
Still, the ABA cautioned against alarm, noting that late-payment rates for both auto loans and credit card loans remain below their average levels for the last 15 years.
Following the Great Recession, delinquency rates on consumer loans plunged, as many of the riskiest credits were purged from banks’ portfolios. Industry executives have long been predicting a return to rates that are closer to historical averages.
While the new report does not segment late-payment rates based on the creditworthiness of borrowers, there are other signs that the hardships are more heavily concentrated among consumers with lower credit scores.
In a speech last week, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer issued a warning about the subprime car loan market. “Auto loan balances and delinquency rates are high for borrowers with lower credit scores, meaning that the riskiest borrowers are borrowing more and not paying it back as often,” he said.
In a May 2017 report, Fitch Ratings warned that credit card loss rates have been rising steadily and cited subprime borrowers as an important culprit. In the first quarter of 2017, banks tightened their underwriting standards for credit card loans for the first time since the second quarter of 2010, according to Fitch.
“This could indicate that issuers are becoming more cautious following the acceleration in consumer borrowing in recent years,” the New York-based credit rating firm stated.