For months we've written about the imminently doomed auto bubble in the U.S., spurred in no small part by an unprecedented relaxation of underwriting standards by banks that would put even the shenanigans of the 2008 mortgage crisis to shame. From stretched out lending terms to promotional interest rates, auto lenders have increasingly played every trick necessary to get those incremental new car buyers into the most expensive car their monthly budgets could possibly absorb.
That said, in recent weeks there has been growing concern that consumers, auto dealers and/or banks have been going beyond simply relaxing underwriting standards and have instead been forced to commit outright fraud in order to attract that incremental auto volume growth. As UBS Strategist Matthew Mish told Bloomberg, “something is definitely going on under the hood...it’s not just smoke and mirrors anymore.”
The evidence is growing. First, the explosion of technology makes gaining access to information to improve credit scores very simple. Internet searches for 'credit score' are at record levels. Second, our survey finds 21% of auto loan borrowers admitted to some form of inaccuracy in their loan applications. Third, there is growing concern reported among auto lenders around fraud, which is the extreme case of this behavior.
Overall, the explosion and adoption of technology makes gaining access to "proven" methods for improving credit scores extremely simple. To this point, the popularity of internet searches for "credit score" has been rising consistently and is near peak post-crisis levels (Figure 7). Similarly, our survey finds that 21% of auto loan borrowers admitted to some inaccuracy in their application for non-mortgage related debt (auto, student or credit card loan). More concerning, this trend may be systemic as 29% of other consumer loan (i.e., student loan, credit card) borrowers acknowledged some form of inaccuracy in their applications (Figure 8).
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