Feb. 13 (UPI) -- A record number of Americans are seriously delinquent on their car payments, by three months or longer, a report by the Federal Reserve says.
The Federal Reserve of New York said in its quarterly report on household debt and credit 7 million Americans are late making a car payment by 90 days or more. That figure exceeded the level recorded in 2010, during the Great Recession.
The 45-page report Tuesday indicated 6.5 percent of vehicle financing last year was in "seriously delinquent" status -- at least three months past due, and the step before default.
The analysis said auto loans given at the dealer level to less qualified buyers -- instead of through banks or credit unions -- are most responsible for the delinquencies.
Total U.S. auto loan debt climbed to $584 billion in 2018, up from $569 billion the year before -- the greatest increase since the Federal Reserve began tracking the figure nearly 20 years ago.
The report also said overall household debt rose 0.32 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, a level higher than the post-crisis peak in early 2013. Student loans also increased at the end of 2018 to $1.46 trillion. Credit card balances rose 1.5 percent in Q4, the 24th consecutive quarter with an increase, the Fed study said.
"Growing delinquencies among subprime borrowers are responsible for this deteriorating performance, and younger borrowers are struggling most acutely to afford their auto loans." Joelle Scally, administrator of the Center for Microeconomic Data at the New York Federal Reserve, said in a statement.
Americans paid an average of more than $36,000 for a new vehicle in 2018, about 3 percent more than the year before.