F&I will get tougher in post-cliff economy

UPDATED: 1/10/13 10:04 am ET - adds corrective

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story compared spending during the 2012 holiday shopping season with last year. It should have been compared with 2011.

The hardest job in a dealership this year will be selling finance and insurance.

Now any F&I manager reading this would laugh and say that's always the case. But fasten your seatbelt because it's going to be especially challenging this year.

That's because most customers won't have that extra $100 a month in their paycheck to cover an extended-service contract or paint protection policy like they had last year.

Congress struck a deal to keep the country from going over the fiscal cliff. And while the legislation will keep broader middle class income taxes from rising, most workers will still have to pay at least 2 percent more in payroll taxes.

According to a CNN report that means most of the country's 160 million workers will see their monthly paychecks shrink by $50 for those earning $30,000 annually. The tax hike will shave off $189.50 a month for those with incomes totaling $113,700.

The ding in income is probably not deep enough to stall car sales. But it certainly could give many consumers pause when considering those pricey add-ons in the F&I office.

And consider consumer jitters.

The consumer confidence index measures the public's sentiments each month. It sank six points in December, a huge turnaround from October, when the index reached a four-year high.

Between Oct. 30 and Dec. 24, prime holiday shopping time, consumers spent less than 1 percent more than they did during roughly the same period in 2011, according to a MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report. In 2011, the period had a 2 percent sales gain year over year.

That being said, it will be an interesting year to watch how F&I managers overcome these economic obstacles to meet their sales goals.

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