Car loans are not as easy to get anymore

September 30, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The auto industry is taking another hit. First it was high gas prices and the general economic slowdown, now it's the credit crunch. Car buyers who could have qualified for a loan a few months ago, are now being turned away.

Even a credit score of 700 is no guarantee to get a car loan. Six months ago 620 was certainly good enough, but now banks are holding back. That in turn puts the squeeze on car dealerships.

There are precious few shoppers on Oakland's Broadway Auto Row. Those who are there are cash customers. Devance Saunders is looking for a Cadillac.

"I plan to pay cash, been saving, retired from the teamsters," said Saunders.

Saunders says he feels lucky, compared to friends who've tried get auto loans lately.

"They say no they tried to get a loan. I don't know if the right word is 'ridiculous,'" said Saunders.

"Banks and credit unions and stuff will literally tell you they're running out of money," said Bonnie Davis.

Davis is the loan supervisor for special financing at the Bay Bridge Dealer Group. In short, she helps people with less than perfect credit. She says the last three to four months have been a devastating period for dealers and shoppers. People who could get a loan before, cannot now.

"Now you have to look at debt to income percentage, paycheck stubs year to date, to be able to define if this person still can meet qualifications. They may have all that, and banks still may not accept them," said Davis.

She's seen her own income plummet to a third of what it was two years ago.

"Sales are awful, absolutely awful," said Davis.

GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner has said he believes the auto industry needs federally-backed low-interest loans, tax breaks and a banking bailout.

However, industry analysts say October sales are traditionally worse than September. So even if Congress passes a bailout plan this week that loosens-up the credit markets, the auto industry probably won't fare much better than it is now.

"If they don't have the resources to be able to lend, then I'm very concerned about my ability to continue to operate my business on a daily basis," said Desmond Roberts, a car dealer from Chicago.

While qualifying is tougher, the rates themselves haven't changed much since spring. HSH, a company that tracks loan rates, says The average 60-month new car loan is still priced around 7.1 percent.


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