Dealertrack’s Credit Availability Index tracks auto loan application data to indicate whether access to auto loan credit is getting better or worse. It fell 0.8% in May, showing that loans became a little harder to obtain during the month, but fell from an all-time high. Auto credit was easier to find in April than at any time since the index began tracking in 2015.
The index is a product of Kelley Blue Book’s parent company, Cox Automotive.
The change is not a surprise. The Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve System (commonly called “The Fed”) raised interest rates in May specifically to rein in major purchases like homes and cars. Economists consider this to be the Fed’s most effective tool in trying to control inflation.
But the Fed’s move could have a limited effect on the auto market. The main factor driving high car prices has been the tight supply of new cars thanks to the continuing shortage of microchips, which is largely out of the control of banks.
Credit standards for new car loans tightened more than for used car loans in May.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019, the terms of the average new car loan have changed considerably. Approval rates have increased slightly, terms have been lengthened, and the average down payment has been reduced. All of these factors made credit more accessible. But negative equity has increased, meaning more borrowers owe more than their car is worth.
Americans appear to be tightening their belts as inflation rises. According to the Conference Board, consumer confidence fell 2.0% in May. The number of Americans planning to buy a new car has decreased, although it is still higher than a year ago.