Auto debt complaints are soaring during pandemic

Joy Wiltermuth

Consumers struggling to keep up with their auto debts filed a record number of complaints with a key federal consumer watchdog agency in the first five months of the pandemic, according to a new analysis of government data released Wednesday.

The report found that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received 2,844 complaints by borrowers, or pleas for help, on auto-related disputes from March to July, the highest of any five-month period since the CFPB started collecting consumer complaints in 2012.

The complaints showed borrowers have been hard-hit by COVID-19 after a booming decade for auto financing, but also pointed to a potentially bigger crisis brewing in the months since auto debt relief was left out of the $2 trillion Cares Act passed by Congress in March.

“In the first months of the pandemic, many auto lenders have offered relief programs to their customers. But without federal requirements for relief programs, those programs have been inconsistent,” wrote the report’s co-authors, a team from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and its research affiliate Frontier Group.

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