When it comes to car loans, money is cheap — historically cheap. Banks, bolstered by loose monetary policy, are charging the lowest interest rates on new-car loans since the Federal Reserve began surveying them in 1971. The rates helped spur a 9.5 percent jump in light-vehicle sales last month and maintained the fastest pace since the government’s ‘‘cash for clunkers’’ program three years ago, according to analysts Bloomberg polled.
In addition, Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, and Nissan are offering zero percent financing on some models, according to Edmunds.com.
Buyers with lower credit scores are also benefiting from more-affordable loans. Sales to B-tier buyers, with credit scores of 650 to 679, have risen 26 percent this year, compared with a 7 percent rise in sales to those with A-plus credit, or scores from 790 to 999, said Thomas King, senior director at J.D. Power & Associates.
Availability and affordability of auto financing is improving faster than home mortgage rates are falling, said Diane Swonk, chief economist with Mesirow Financial in Chicago. That helps explain why auto sales are coming back faster than the housing market, she said.
US light-vehicle sales probably rose 9.5 percent in September to 1.15 million, the average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
The industry selling pace was 14.5 million in August, the best since August 2009, when the government offered incentives for buyers to exchange older vehicles for new models.
Buyers may have helped Toyota lead the industry in boosting sales by 36 percent last month, the average estimate of eight analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The Sienna was one of seven models, including the Corolla compact car and RAV4 sport-utility vehicle, for which the automaker offered zero percent financing in September.
Industrywide deliveries this year through August climbed 15 percent to 9.71 million, according to Autodata Corp. The industry is on pace to exceed 14 million sales this year, the best total since 2007.
Banks reported the most common rate for a 48-month new-car loan was 4.87 percent in May, the most recent reporting period.
The rates have dropped from more than 7 percent before the Fed lowered its target interest rate to zero in December 2008 and undertook large-scale asset purchases to try to boost economic growth. The Fed last month committed to a third round of so-called quantitative easing, with open-ended purchases of $40 billion of mortgage debt per month.
More than one in 10 auto loans written in August featured zero percent interest, the highest level of the year, according Edmunds. The average rate on auto loans fell to 4.1 percent in August, the lowest of the year.
‘‘If you’re financing a vehicle, you’re talking about record-low rates, rates we’ve never seen before,’’ said Ballew, a former sales analyst for GM and economist for the Federal Reserve. ‘‘The fact that the Fed is being aggressive at least in the near term on the margin helps the industry.’’