Are You Following Clark’s Maximum Auto Loan Length Rule?


The average length of an auto loan in the United States is now 70.6 months and comes with a monthly payment of $573, according to the latest research.

Money expert Clark Howard says that’s more than two years longer than any auto loan you should ever take out!

3 Reasons Why Long Auto Loans Are Bad News

Seven-year loans are attractive to a lot of consumers because of the lower monthly payments.

But there are several drawbacks to longer loan terms.

1. They’re More Costly in the Long Run

With all the 84-month financing offers floating around, you might think you’re doing yourself a favor if you take only a 72-month loan.

But the reality is you’ll spend thousands more over the life of a six-year loan versus even just a five-year loan, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Let’s say you finance $20,000 at 5% for five years. After three years, you’ll have paid $2,190.27 in interest and you’re left with a remaining balance of $8,602.98 to pay over 24 months.

But what if you extended that loan term with the same interest by just 12 months and took out a six-year loan instead?

After those same three years pass, you’ll have paid about $152 more in interest over 36 months, plus you’ll have a remaining balance of $10,747 to tackle over the next 36 months.

So the net effect of selecting a 72-month loan (instead of a 60-month loan) is that you’ll pay some $2,000 more!


2. You’re Likely to Finance More Money

“The average loan amount for a six-year loan was $25,300, compared to $20,100 for a five-year loan,” the CFPB writes. “The average size of loans with terms of seven years or more was even larger at $32,200.”

Keep in mind that right now — because of the unprecedented economic disruption accompanying the pandemic — money expert Clark Howard is warning consumers away from making most big purchases.

“Unless you are sitting there with tons of cash, you don’t want to be in a position where you’re taking on new debt obligations. I don’t care how good the deal is — and I’m the deal guy,” Clark says. “Don’t buy deals that would put you into debt.”

3. You’re More Likely to Default

The longer your loan term, the more likely you are to default on that loan. Borrowers with six-year loans are about twice as likely to default than those with five-year loans, according to CFPB research.

Six-year borrowers have a more than 8% default rate, while five-year borrowers have a default rate in the neighborhood of 4%.

Keep in mind the CFPB did its research before the current pandemic, so we don’t know how the numbers look for seven-year loans in 2020.

But it’s probably safe to assume the rate of default will be even higher for those in the 84-month financing offers that are all the rage right now.

Clark Howard: 42 Months Should Be Your Max Auto Loan

Clark Howard has long advised people that shorter is better when it comes to auto loan terms.

“The longest auto loan you should ever take out is 42 months,” Clark says. “If you can’t afford the payment on a 42-month loan, then you should buy a cheaper car.”

Buying a cheaper car may mean having to buy a used car instead of a new vehicle. But you might be surprised how much car you can get for not too much money.

Let’s take a look at the best used car bargains under $15,000, according to iSeeCars data:

Best Used Car Deals Under $15,000

VehicleAvg. 3-Year-Old Used Price% 3-Year Depreciation$ Savings Over New Car Price
Ford Fusion Hybrid$13,56554.9%$16,480
Ford Fusion$14,66344.7%$11,834
Volkswagen Passat$14,47843.2%$10,996
Kia Optima$14,61342.7%$10,907
Nissan Altima$13,71842.5%$10,148
Hyundai Sonata$14,86942.0%$10,785
Chevrolet Trax$14,79338.5%$9,253
Hyundai Elantra$12,36938.3%$7,666
Nissan Sentra$11,85938.0%$7,271
Kia Soul$13,33637.4%$7,969
Average for Similarly Priced Cars39.4%

Final Thought

As you can see, there are multiple reasons why you should keep auto loan length to a minimum.


If the events of this pandemic have shown us anything, it’s that you never know when you’ll find yourself in a tough spot financially. So your best bet is to limit auto loans to 42 months or less — in both good times and bad ones.

More Car Resources From

Sling Streaming Service Review 4 Things To Know Before You Sign Up for Sling TV - Ready to finally cut the cord? Team Clark put Sling TV's $35/month live TV streaming service to the test!
Welcome bonuses can be a great way to boost the value of a credit card. Best Credit Card Welcome Bonuses for 2022 - If you're in the market for a new credit card in 2022, you may be hoping to cash in on the hundreds of dollars in signup bonuses offered to new customers. Welcome bonuses and offers are a marketing tool that…
The best cell phone plans include Tello, Mint Mobile, Visible, T-Mobile, Consumer Cellular and more Best Cell Phone Plans and Deals in 2022 - Team Clark ranks the best cell phone plans and deals! See our favorites for unlimited data, families and cheap plans starting at $10/month.
  • Show Comments Hide Comments