Some people say capitalism and alligators have much in common — both eat their young. While the rich get richer (and will get richer still if the #FakePresident has his way), ordinary schlubs who are working one, two, or sometimes three jobs to make ends meet are finding they can no longer afford to buy average new cars.
That’s according to a new study by Bankrate.com. It finds that people living in 24 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the US cannot afford the average price of new cars, which was $33,000 in May according to Kelly Blue Book. In six of those cities, people struggle to afford cars cost half that much.
Only in Washington, DC, where the median income is over $100,000, are people able to afford a new car. But the statistics for the nation’s capitol are wildly skewed by all the millionaires in Congress and the $1,000 an hour lobbyists who grease the wheels of democracy.
“Affordability” is a relative term, of course. For purposes of the Bankrate study, analysts used the so-called 20/4/10 rule. It assumes a 20 percent down payment, a 48 month loan, and a total of of insurance and loan payments that does not exceed 10 percent of a family’s gross income.
“The [average] household can’t comfortably afford to buy a new vehicle,” said Claes Bell, a Bankrate.com analyst. “That means a lot of households are overextending themselves on car costs, and that can potentially crowd out other priorities such as saving for retirement.”
“This issue of affordability isn’t just about the price of cars. It’s about the stagnation of wages,” Bell said. “Car costs are not rising all that quickly over time, but things like health care and college costs are going up and wages aren’t [keeping up]. Budgets are being stretched.”
“People should prepare for a car purchase by saving for a down payment,” Bell said. “Sometimes people impulsively go to a car lot and get sold on buying a new car. But if they don’t have a sufficient down payment saved, it will be hard to fit the payment into their budget.”
The total of auto loan indebtedness now stands at $1.2 trillion — about 10% of all consumer debt according to the Federal Reserve. Late payments on car loans is rising. Nearly 4% were delinquent at the end of March according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“People fall in love with cars they can’t afford, and that’s how they get in trouble,” said John Gajkowski, a certified financial planner and co-founder of Money Managers Financial Group.
Capitalism assumes constant growth — a model that is inherently unsustainable. Real wages for workers have been falling slowly but surely in America for 40 years. The cost of living continues its upward climb while globalization forces American workers to compete with the low paid labor in other parts of the world.
Car makers are subsidizing sales with low interest rates and extended term loans. On some high end models, it is now possible to get loans that extend out to 96 months or more. But people seldom keep a car that long, which means they find themselves owing more than their car is worth when it comes time to go car shopping again. It’s a vicious circle that is not likely to end well for manufacturers or consumers.