Auto loan originations for banks and credit unions for the first two months of this year were the highest for that period since Equifax started keeping track in 2006, the company said.
Banks and credit unions "are being a little more loose," Amy Crews Cutts, Equifax's chief economist, said last week. "That doesn't mean they're being loose with the money, but they are more aggressively seeking lending -- and for the most part only for those with super-squeaky-clean credit.
For banks and credit unions combined, originations for the first two months of this year were about $17.4 billion, up about 13 percent from $15.4 billion a year earlier. Auto loan volume for banks and credit unions bottomed out for the January-February period in 2010 at $10.9 billion and has increased each year since.
For captive finance companies and independent lenders combined, originations were about $17.9 billion, an increase of 2.9 percent from a year earlier and the highest for the period since 2007, according to Atlanta-based Equifax.
Total originations were up 7.6 percent to $35.3 billion, Equifax said.
The overall recovery in the U.S. economy is providing a tailwind for auto sales, along with low interest rates and low delinquencies, Crews Cutts said.
"As painful as it's been, the economy is getting better slowly," she said. "There may be people out there who could afford to pay cash, but you can get 1.8 or 1.9 percent financing if you're in the prime bucket. It's awfully hard to turn that down. Auto lending is doing quite well now, simply because they're making it easy."