The Rest of the Story on the WSJ’s Debt Consolidation Article

Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal published a story entitled “More Borrowers Are Going Underwater on Car Loans.” The story dramatizes the experiences of a handful of consumers who have refinanced their auto loan or rolled a previous loan balance onto a new loan, and how this activity has affected their financial outlooks.

While the American Financial Services Association wasn’t contacted for the story, and we can’t be fully aware of the consumers’ full financial situation or their experiences, we do have some thoughts in general on consumers’ access to credit options.

The opportunity for debt consolidation offers convenience to consumers and helps to simplify their finances, sometimes at a lower interest rate. As the WSJ article notes, consumers’ needs evolve. In the case of auto, beyond the customer need, it’s important to note that auto-finance underwriting is based on the consumer’s ability to pay, because all parties involved are invested in a positive outcome for the consumer, the lender, and the dealer.

In general, the ability for a consumer to fold an outstanding debt into a new vehicle purchase is a convenience, one that many consumers choose as their situations and vehicle needs change. Providing consumers with as many options as possible is critical to their financial success – refinancing and debt consolidation are some of these options.

There are two additional components to this issue that the Journal fails to highlight. 

First, while consumers find it convenient to work through auto dealer finance offices, many also seek pre-approval with a lender they are familiar with.  In either case, lenders perform underwriting to determine that customers have the financial resources to afford the loan they are seeking.  It’s in the lenders’ interest to originate a loan that will be successful. 

Second, it’s fine and good for the media to highlight what it perceives as issues around lending practices.  But almost every one of these stories intended to put lenders in a negative light fails to make the following point:  these experiences demonstrate that knowledgeable consumers make the best decisions regarding their personal finances. 

That is why the AFSA Education Foundation provides its MoneySKILL program. AFSAEF offers the MoneySKILL program to consumers in all 50 states, completely free. Students at the elementary school level access grade-appropriate content in subject areas, such as income, expenses, saving and investing, credit, and insurance. The high school and college courses are designed to be integrated into course work on economics, business, math or personal finances. MoneySKILL curriculums are updated annually to keep current with the needs of students.

You can learn more at afsaef.org.