A predominance of consumers regard making car loan payments as more important than paying off credit cards and mortgages, according to a recent TransUnion study.

An analysis of approximately 4 million consumers who had at least one open auto loan, bank card and mortgage in each quarter of 2011 revealed that paying off car loans was a financial plan priority for many Americans. Nearly four in 10 (39.1 percent) were found to be delinquent on their mortgage but current on their auto loans and credit cards, while 17.3 percent were delinquent on a credit card but current on their auto loans and mortgages. Just 9.5 percent were delinquent on an auto loan and up-to-date on the other two payments.

"Our findings were illuminating because it had not been previously clear that auto loans were considered a higher priority by consumers than both credit cards and mortgages," said Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting in TransUnion's financial services business unit, in a recent statement. "Consumers continued to pay their credit cards ahead of their mortgages. However, the importance of their auto loans appears to have trumped even the value they place on their credit cards."

Becker offered several explanations for this phenomenon. First, an auto loan is not a revolving loan, meaning repossession will have a bigger impact than the loss of a credit card. In addition, the majority of Americans need a vehicle to get to work or look for employment, while a credit card is seen as more of a luxury in comparison.

The issue of equity is another factor. Specifically, consumers may have positive equity in their vehicles that they are eager to preserve. In contrast, many are grappling with negative home equity thanks to the effects of the economy on real estate.

Although the prioritization of auto loans ahead of credit cards and mortgages was observed across the nation, researchers found it was particularly pronounced in states that saw especially severe house price decreases, such as Florida and Michigan.

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