‘My story’ by the numbers

Credit unions have transformed members’ lives for generations. Let’s measure that impact.

November 18, 2022

My first car was a 1972 Grand Prix 455 V-8. It was big, loud, and fast. The ride was incredible—like butter.

It was a two-door hardtop, gray with a plush, ruby-red interior. Before “electric” was a thing, it had electric everything: door locks, mirrors, seats, windows—even a switch that controlled the moon roof.

I bought it from my uncle in 1982 for $1,500. Its most distinctive feature was extensive rust. Passenger-side riders had to climb through the window to get in the door (it was rusted shut). The moon roof leaked like a sieve when it rained (it was rusted open).

My most distinct memory, however, was that I didn’t have the cash to buy it. Banks wouldn’t lend me the money, but my credit union did. It was transformational. The credit union took a chance on me, and I’ll never forget it. I needed that car to go to work, pay the rent, and get to class on time—basically to get ahead in life.

I’ve heard other credit union people tell “my story” countless times. Chances are, if you work for or with credit unions you’ve heard it, too. Often.

This story—my story—is a big part of credit union lore. After all, access to reliable transportation is a foundational aspect of financial well-being for millions of consumers: those who need a lender willing to listen to their story, make an exception, and take a chance.

Collectively, credit unions do a pretty good job of telling my story. But we generally fall short when it comes to measuring the impact it has.

How many auto loans do you make to first-time buyers and those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder? How many chances does your credit union take? 

How much money did you save members who live paycheck to paycheck?

COVID challenges

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, answers to those questions are more important than ever.

COVID magnified challenges for almost everyone. But it was especially tough on average front-line workers: minimum wage earners who had to be at work but who faced public transit interruptions in many cities.

Supply chains also were disrupted, making it more difficult to obtain alternative transportation. New car and light truck sales plummeted from 17 million units in 2019 to 14.5 million in 2020 and 15 million in 2021. In the first eight months of 2022, the annualized monthly sales rate averaged just 13.7 million units—down 19.5% compared with the pre-pandemic 2019 readings.

Those trends greatly increased demand for used vehicles, which is where many front-line workers turn when shopping for a car. Prices jumped dramatically.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports used car and truck prices spiked 26.6% in 2021 and 15% in the 12 months ending July 2022. Many people were priced out of the market. But signs of a rebound are increasingly obvious.

For example, CUNA’s Monthly Credit Union Estimates (MCUE) Report—based on a survey of hundreds of credit unions nationwide with results asset-weighted to represent movement-wide results—shows that credit union loans outstanding increased 10% in the first half of 2022. That’s an eye-popping 20% annualized rate and the fastest first-half increase in the 32 years we’ve collected this data.

A big contributor to that result was credit union auto lending, which grew at a 12% rate (24% annualized) in the first half of 2022. It’s a compelling story.

This year, CUNA acquired a 10% sample of the Equifax database, with monthly observations going back to 2005. In all, our sample consists of 28 billion records and counting. 

Our goal is to tell this compelling story—and similar credit union stories—to any and all consumers and policymakers who will listen. What are we seeing?

First, it confirms the trends revealed in our MCUE data. More importantly, it reveals that despite supply chain disruptions and other dislocations, credit unions have a clear and strong commitment to ensuring members have affordable, easy-to-get auto loans. Credit unions are clearly punching above their weight in the auto loan arena today.

While credit unions control only 8% of depository financial institution assets, second-quarter 2022 Equifax data shows that credit unions accounted for a 37% market share of total auto loan originations in the second quarter of 2022. That includes originations among all depository financial institutions and all nondepository finance companies, including captive financers and buy-here, pay-here companies.

Credit union market share of total auto loans outstanding (including securitized loans) totaled 30.7% at mid-year 2022, a nearly four percentage point increase compared to year-ago readings.

NEXT: Modest-means members

Modest-means members

Some—bankers in particular—say credit unions have lost their way, are no longer mission-focused, and have abandoned those of modest means. But Equifax data clearly shows that credit unions are collectively focused on responsibly serving all consumers, especially those of modest means, with auto loans.

Specifically, the data shows that banks are 1.3 times more likely than credit unions to originate auto loans to “super prime” borrowers, those with credit scores above 720. Overall, 65% of banks’ auto loan originations go to consumers in this high credit tier.

In contrast, only 51% of credit union loans are concentrated in the upper reaches of the credit scoring continuum.

At the other end of the spectrum, credit unions are 1.6 times more likely than banks to originate auto loans to consumers with nonprime credit scores (i.e., scores below 660). Overall, 23% of credit union auto loan originations are to consumers with below-prime scores, while only 14% of bank originations occur in that market segment.

Part of the attraction to credit union auto loans is favorable pricing. In mid-August 2022, Datatrac auto loan interest rates for A-paper borrowers averaged 4.72% at banks but only 3.52% at credit unions. That 120 basis point difference means that a consumer who finances $38,000 on a five-year term will save roughly $1,300 over the life of the loan if originated at a credit union rather than a bank.

We’re evaluating implied interest rates in the Equifax dataset. This should give us solid data on average finance rates across the credit score spectrum, not simply within the upper tier.

We’re confident that, using Equifax data, we’ll have an even more compelling story to tell. The data will likely show that borrowers with lower credit scores save $7,500 to $10,000 over their loan term by financing at a credit union compared to what they’d pay elsewhere.

In any case, credit unions’ favorable pricing makes auto loans more affordable, and the strong credit union culture of consultation and member-centric financial counseling ensures members know what they’re getting into.

As a practical matter, that means credit union members are more likely to pay their automobile loans on time, reflected in substantially lower delinquency rates.

This also is abundantly clear in the Equifax data. Overall auto loan delinquency rates at credit unions are far lower than those at banks and auto finance companies.

Mid-year 2022 data shows that bank auto loan delinquency rates are roughly 1.3 to 1.4 times higher than credit union delinquency rates across the credit score spectrum. Auto finance company delinquency rates are 2.5 to 3.0 times higher than credit union delinquency rates.

The record is clear: Using on-time payments as an indicator, credit union members reflect higher levels of financial stability and resilience than consumers who borrow from banks and auto finance companies. This is true across the credit spectrum.

“My story” is really the credit union story. Credit unions clearly stand out in the auto finance arena. Don’t take it for granted. Measure your impact. Tell your story. Seven times, seven ways.

MIKE SCHENK is chief economist and deputy chief advocacy officer at Credit Union National Association. Contact him at 608-231-4228 or at