Car owners fall behind on loan payments

As unemployment rises and access to cash falls, an increasing number of consumers are having trouble making payments on their car loans.

The USA Today reports that "Car loans that were 60 days past due - and likely to soon go into default - were up 17% in the fourth quarter, says Experian Automotive credit tracking. And the share of loans 60 days past due is expected to be up 40% by December, compared with the share in December 2007, TransUnion Credit says."

Unlike home loans, there's nothing really particularly sad about people defaulting on car loans: It's just people making bad decisions and overextending themselves. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the average new car loan was $24,444 -- significantly more than is needed to get a set of wheels to get to work and drop the kids off at school.

When it comes to car loan defaults, here's what consumers need to know: Never take out a car loan unless you're just doing it to take advantage of a super-low interest rate while investing the money you would have spent on the car elsewhere. In other words, only buy a car that you could afford to pay for with cash. If that's a $3,000 car, then so be it.

I promise: That methodology will probably put you in a very different car than what most of your friends are driving but in the long run, you will be far, far richer for it.

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