The balances on outstanding auto loans reached $782 billion, the highest level since January 2009 for a 48-month high, while the total number of existing loans stands at 59 million, the highest level since July 2009 for a 42-month high, according to Equifax's latest National Consumer Credit Trends Report.

Equifax's auto reporting includes both loan and lease type auto financing. 

Loans funded through financial institutions such as banks, savings and loans or credit unions, are at more than $372 billion, realizing a 60-month high and back to pre-recession levels.

Delinquency rates within the auto portfolio also are improving, and by the end of the year, decreased by nearly 11% from the same time a year ago, while auto loan and lease losses in that same period dropped nearly 10%.

"Sales of new cars and light trucks are rising steadily, though they are still well below pre-recession levels of roughly 17 million units," said Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "Yet auto lending, including leases, is now back to pre-recession levels, driven in part by the very attractive interest rates being offered on these loans and a gradual increase in willingness to lend to less-than-perfect credit borrowers."

Other highlights from the most recent data include:

    •    The most recent data shows that auto loans originated between January-November 2012 totaled $387.7 billion, a six-year high and representing nearly 46% of total consumer credit originated ($825 billion) for that same time.

    •    Total number of new auto loans originated between January-November 2012 was 19.9 million, an increase of more than 11% from January-November 2011 and matching a six-year high.

    •    New auto loans funded in November 2012 by banks, savings and loans or credit unions increased nearly 13% over November 2011 totals (749,800 to 857,300).

 

    •    For January-November 2012, auto lending to subprime borrowers (origination risk scores less than 640) has increased more than 18% year-over-year, from 5.1 million to 6.1 million.

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