Idaho, the Carolinas Lead the Country With Biggest Increase in Car Loans

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Americans held a total of 80.2 million auto loans in the first quarter of 2022. Over the past five years, Idaho, North Carolina and South Carolina saw the biggest increase in the number of auto loans.

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Amid a pandemic, limited inventory and skyrocketing car prices, the U.S. carbuying experience has seen some major changes over the past two years. To illustrate the trends in 2022 so far, Experian looked at the changes in the number of auto loans held by U.S. consumers.

Americans held a total of 80.2 million auto loans in the first quarter (Q1) of 2022—that's a 1% decrease from the same period in 2021. Still, it represents a 4% jump from the pandemic-era low of 77 million auto loan accounts in Q1 2020.

When stay-at-home guidance went into effect in many places in March 2020, some car dealerships were not permitted to remain open as essential businesses, while others curtailed capacity and hours. Vehicle manufacturers including Ford and GM shut down assembly plants with a nudge from their unions, which were concerned with worker safety. Car manufacturing and sales quickly plummeted.

Nearly every manufacturer saw sales declines in Q1 2020, and the seasonally adjusted average annual rate of car sales plunged from 17 million in February 2020 to 11 million in March 2020. March also saw new vehicle loan terms hit a record as they grew to their longest ever. That metric had already been climbing in the preceding years, and average loan payments also rose, according to research from Edmunds.

By 2021, many dealerships were fully reopened, record-low interest rates made financing a vehicle historically cheap and car sales were up again. As of Q1 2022, U.S. car owners were paying a national average monthly payment of $568, according to Experian data. But a new problem emerged: There weren't enough vehicles to keep up with demand. The scarce selection of newer models was set in motion by a number of factors, including a shortage of semiconductor chips from Asia—a headwind still slowing the industry's recovery today. Used cars were, and remain, in especially high demand as car buyers sought more availability—and more options for color and trim packages.

Total Number of Auto Loans in the U.S. Is Down From 2021

In the early months of 2020, the total number of vehicles that U.S. consumers were still paying off dipped to its lowest point, according to Experian data. In Q1 2020, there were 76.9 million auto loans. It wasn't until Q3 of that year that the total number of auto loans bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. Total auto loans dipped again at the end of 2021.

Number of Auto Loans in the U.S., 2019 - 2022

The South, West See Fastest Growth in Auto Loans Since 2017

Over the past five years, Idaho, North Carolina, South Carolina and Utah saw the biggest increase in the number of auto loans. Since 2017, the total number of vehicle loans grew more than 14% in Idaho. In North Carolina, that total growth reached 13%, followed by South Carolina at 11%. Utah and Florida both saw 10% increases over the same period.

Growth in Auto Loans, June 2017 - March 2022

Consumers in Texas, Wyoming Have Highest Average Auto Loan Payments

U.S consumers who live in the heart of truck country paid the most on their auto loans at the start of this year, according to Experian data. Vehicle owners in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas and Wyoming all topped $600 for average monthly payments. Texans led the way with a $662 average monthly auto payment during Q1 2022. In Wyoming, the average monthly payment came in at $636 a month, while Louisiana owners paid a $630 average monthly payment. Meanwhile, car owners in Rhode Island had the lowest average monthly car payments at $461 a month, followed by owners in Michigan ($480) and Massachusetts ($483).

Average Monthly Auto Payment by State, Q1 2022

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