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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB examines subprime auto loans

Federal Issues CFPB Auto Finance Subprime Credit Scores Consumer Finance Interest Rate

Federal Issues

On September 30, the CFPB released a Data Point report, titled Subprime Auto Loan Outcomes by Lender Type, which examines interest rate and default risk trends across different types of subprime lenders, including how much of the variation of interest rates charged among subprime lenders can be explained by differences in default rates and how much is left to be explained. The report found notable average differences across lender types in the borrowers they serve and the types of vehicles they finance. Banks and credit unions offering subprime auto loans typically lend to borrowers with higher credit scores compared to finance companies and buy-here-pay-here dealerships, the report noted, adding that different lenders also charge very different interest rates on average. According to the report’s sample, a bank’s average subprime loan interest rate is approximately 10 percent, compared to 15 to 20 percent at finance companies and buy-here-pay-here dealerships. The report found that higher default rates were found at lenders that charged higher interest rates, and that “the likelihood of a subprime auto loan becoming at least 60 days delinquent within three years is approximately 15 percent for bank borrowers and between 25 percent and 40 percent for finance company and buy-here-pay-here borrowers.”

However, the report presented statistical analysis that called into question whether differences in default rates fully explained the average differences in interest rates across subprime lender types. As an example, an average borrower with a 560 credit score or higher would have the same default risk whether the borrower obtained a loan from a bank or a small buy-here-pay-here lender, but the estimated interest rate would be nine percent with a bank loan versus 13 percent from a small buy-here-pay-here lender. The report noted that there are other variables, not observed in the data collected, that may explain differences in interest rates charged by different types of auto lenders, such as down payments, vehicle values, variations in borrowers’ access to information, borrowers’ financial sophistication, and variations within lenders’ business practices and incentives.