Automotive credit balances and new accounts are increasing steadily, with the number of new accounts opened in the first half of the year approaching pre-recession levels, according to Equifax's National Consumer Credit Trends Report.

Year-to-date through June, total auto lending reached $207 billion, a 13.7 percent increase over the volume during the same period a year ago. Sales of new cars and light trucks increased nearly 15 percent during the first half of the year, dominated by sales of smaller, more efficient and cheaper vehicles. In terms of the number of auto loans originated during the first half of the year, auto lending at 10.7 million loans is the highest since 2007 when 11 million loans were opened.

Delinquency and write-off rates on auto loans and leases are well below levels seen at the start of the recession. Write-off rates in August are one-third of what they were at the peak in March 2009 (2.1 percent versus 6.1 percent), while the number of auto account write-offs is about half of the peak volume (2.5 percent versus 5.2 percent). Write-off rates using both dollars and units exceeded 4 percent at the start of the recession.

"The average age of cars on the road today in the U.S. is the highest ever recorded and consumers are ready to replace these older vehicles," says Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "At the same time, the financial picture has improved sufficiently that we are seeing auto lending markets become facilitators rather than obstacles to meeting this demand, especially in the near-prime segment of the market that had all but ceased to exist during the worst of the financial crisis and recession."

Other credit highlights from the recent data include:

Bank Credit Card
•    Nationally, bank credit card origination credit limits year-to-date through June have increased more than 36 percent from their recession low, from $55.5 billion in 2010 to $87.3 billion in 2012.
•    The total number of bank credit card accounts exceeded 300 million for the first time since April 2010, a 28-month high.
•    While the amount of credit available (the difference between credit used and credit limits) has been rising since February 2011, utilization rates continued to fall until May of this year when they hit a five-year low of 22.1 percent.
•    Utilization rates rose to 22.4 percent and the amount of credit available was $1.87 trillion in August.
Student Loans
•    Student loan new credit increased more than 15 percent, from $25.6 billion in 2010 to $30.3 billion through 2012 year-to-date through June.
•    Overall balances of student loans have increased throughout the recession and subsequent recovery, reaching more than $800 billion through August.
•    Student loan write-offs totaled $10.6 billion year-to-date through August, an increase of more than 10 percent from same time a year ago ($9.5 billion in 2011).
•    The average total of all student loans taken out by a borrower in June ($9,467) is more than 67 percent higher than the recession low in 2008 ($5,660).
•    The average loan size per student loan is increasing at a slower rate than overall student borrowing; the average single student loan in June was $5701 compared to $4126 in June 2008 as students seek multiple loans to cover their education costs.

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