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GM: credit crunch hasn’t killed loans

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If you’re planning to buy a car in the near future and finance the purchase, the talk about frozen credit markets and the $700 billion Wall Street bailout can’t help but make you worried about whether they can get a car loan.

Troy Clarke, General Motors’ president of operations, said this week in an interview with Bankrate that while lending standards have tightened, many car buyers can still get car loans.

“You’re certainly seeing less leasing and offers of zero down and zero percent are rare,” he said. “But people are getting car loans. The market is responding; there are more lenders in play — banks, credit unions — and the market is working. And GMAC is still lending.”

Clarke said GM’s employee pricing campaign, which ended Tuesday, was very effective in luring buyers into showrooms to help clear out 2008 models. He does not anticipate the program returning soon.

Sales in August and September rebounded in the truck and SUV market, but buyers can still expect to see the greatest discounts on those models, Clarke said.

Others in the auto loan industry say that the biggest change consumers are seeing is a sharp drop in the availability of negative equity loans — when a buyer trades a car worth less than is owed and the balance is rolled over into the new car loan.

While people with credit scores above 720 — considered top-tier risks — may still be able to do that, most buyers can’t now.

For subprime borrowers — with scores of 630 or lower — getting a car loan is problematic. Only about one in five of applications from such buyers is getting approved, compared with more than two-thirds last year, according to CNW Marketing Research.

Nonetheless, Clarke sees his industry rebounding from both the loan issues and the impact of higher gas prices, which have dropped in recent weeks.

Clarke said that GM is planning new models based on the belief that gas prices will remain well above $2 or $3 a gallon.

“Before, we saw fuel prices in terms of spikes and then drops,” he says. “We chose now to see it as structural and are assuming prices eventually will go higher.”

He said GM is confident it will be able to bring its much-touted Volt hybrid electric sedan to market in late 2010 and that the technology in the vehicle will be the basis for other vehicles.

Car buyers don’t get ‘cooling off’ time

Dear Terry,
I have just purchased a used automobile from a dealer here in Atlanta. I want to return it because I will not be able to cover the regular maintenance of the vehicle. When work needs to be done on the vehicle, it will be too expensive for me. The purchase is just 3 days old. Can I return the vehicle?
— Sallie

Dear Sallie,
There is no “cooling off” period when it comes to car sales. Once you’ve signed the papers and left the lot, the car is yours.

But I question why you’re so afraid of possible repair bills just days into ownership? Is something amiss already? If so, is there a warranty on the vehicle?

Otherwise, a fear of high maintenance costs is not grounds for undoing the deal.

Loan trouble? Don’t fear prison time

Dear Terry,
I surrendered my truck to a bank. I called the bank told them why and they told me where to take it. I followed their instructions, then called the 800 number and told them I had dropped it off.

I am a single mother of two with no help. I had no choice. Will I go to jail?
— Jen

Dear Jen,
No need to fear any criminal charges. People get into loan trouble all the time, unfortunately, and the worst that usually happens is their credit rating is dragged down.

Most car loans not transferable

Dear Terry,
We want to buy a car that my brother-in-law is still paying on. Is that possible? Can he just sign over the title to us while we continue the payments?
— Donna

Dear Donna,
Most car loans are not transferable. You can contact the lender and see if it will allow you to qualify for the loan, which usually means the lender simply issues a new loan on the vehicle.

Some people drive a vehicle and make the payments on behalf of the original owner, who then would sign over the vehicle once the loan is paid off. But that’s not legal, and the person paying off the loan has no rights to the vehicle.