#subprime auto loans
Subprime auto loans are on the rise and, just like subprime mortgages, are claiming untold victims.
Samuel Perez, 32, is still dealing with fallout from his experience with a subprime loan five years ago, he told The Post.
Officials at Woodside, Queens, dealership Auto Palace offered him an 8.49 percent interest rate on a BMW, with a teaser rate of 6 percent after six months. Perez worked out a financing deal that included monthly payments and trading in an Audi and rolling its payments into the new car.
The rate never made it down to 6 percent since the BMW didn’t work properly, so Perez returned it. But the dealer wouldn’t give him back the Audi, which it had not paid off, or release him from the debt on the BMW, even though he’d never received title.
Perez found himself scrambling to borrow a car to get to work — while fending off bills on two cars he didn’t have, or own, which hurt his already low credit score, he told The Post.
This situation is not limited to small lenders, either — large banks are jumping into the fray.
Just last week, Ally Financial’s new chief executive hit the accelerator into the roughly $300 billion market for subprime auto loans.
Jeffrey Brown said Ally, the biggest player in the auto lending market, wants to boost the amount of subprime auto lending to as much as 15 percent of all loans, as US automakers reported a nearly 14 percent sales jump in January for new cars over last year’s levels.
With interest rates that can at times exceed 20 percent, subprime auto loans are a risky but popular revenue stream for banks — and often a devastating move for consumers.
The marketplace in which auto loans are made to consumers with a credit score below 640 is so shady that multiple regulators, from New York Department of Financial Services head Benjamin Lawsky to Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara, are investigating possible abuses.
Regulators have requested documents from Ally and other major auto lenders Santander Consumer USA and GM Financial regarding securitization of subprime auto loans.
Perez turned to Brooklyn attorney Ahmad Keshavarz for help. Keshavarz filed a lawsuit against Auto Palace and two other defendants alleging a range of harms, including violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, breaches of warranty and violations of the Truth in Lending Act, according to court documents. Auto Palace could not be reached for comment.
The defendants settled, and Perez bought another car.
In 2012, the Queens County District Attorney’s Office charged Auto Palace and its owners with $730,000 in sales tax fraud, and its former finance manager with defrauding customers out of $115,000.
The owners pleaded guilty in 2013 and paid $150,000 to the New York Department of Taxation and Finance. The former finance manager pleaded guilty to grand larceny and was sentenced to two to four years in jail.
Civil cases are still pending against Auto Palace by the Consumer Affairs Department and Department of Motor Vehicles.
“I learned from my mistake,” says Perez.
There are many signs that the subprime auto loan market is reaching unsustainable levels. Delinquencies, average loan balances and loan terms are all increasing nationwide.
In New York, the share of subprime loans has grown to 18.6 percent of consumers from 14.2 percent in 2009, and average loan size is up 5 percent to $18,874, according to Equifax.
“Loans will start blowing up,” says Wolf Richter, Web publisher of wolfstreet.com.