Auto loans outperformed other major categories of consumer debt in November, part of an ongoing pattern in consumer behavior, according to figures released last week by Standard & Poor's and Experian.
The default rate for auto loans fell to 1.17 percent in November, down from 1.22 percent in October and 1.77 percent in November 2010, according to the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Index.
Meantime, the default rate for bank credit cards was 4.91 percent in November. That was an increase from 4.85 percent in October but down from 6.85 percent a year earlier.
The average default rate for first mortgages rose in November from the previous month to 2.17 percent. It was the third consecutive month that first mortgage default rates rose, though the November 2011 figure was lower than the level a year ago -- 3.06 percent.
"In the last recession, there was definitely a shift in consumer behavior," said David Blitzer, an S&P managing director.
"Traditionally -- in previous recessions -- people would do anything to hang on to their house; to make their mortgage payment. They might have six credit cards, all in arrears," he said. "This past recession people didn't always take that attitude. Defaults in mortgages happened much faster and bigger than autos."
Blitzer said that in the 2008-09 recession, consumers in many cases apparently decided that keeping up their car payments was more important than making their mortgage payments because they needed cars to get to work or to look for work.
"It could also be there was no point," in making the house payment, he said. "Some people were so far underwater on their mortgage there was no hope of catching up."