A Record 7 Million Americans Are 90 Days Behind on Their Auto Loan Payments

February 12, 2019, 6:13 PM UTC

Unemployment is low and the economy is booming, but many Americans are struggling to pay their bills.

A record 7 million Americans are 90 or more days behind on their auto loan payments, according to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That number is a million higher than the total at the end of 2010, a time when unemployment rates hit 10% and “delinquency rates were at their worst” notes the Fed.

At that time, 5.3% of auto loan borrowers were three months late on their payments. Now, the share is a slightly lower 4.5%, due in part to a growing number of people taking out loans to purchase a car. But The Washington Post reports that there is increasing concern among economists that this rate has continued to rise in spite of or concurrent with dropping unemployment levels.

That Americans are late on auto loan payments is significant, as this is one of the first bills individuals are likely to pay. Cars are often necessary for transportation to and from work, and falling too far behind on payments can lead to repossession of one’s car.

Nevertheless, the picture isn’t entirely bleak. While delinquency levels increased for those with lower credit scores, individuals with the highest scores are less likely to miss payments, thereby offsetting the effects on the subprime sector.