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Cooling measures drive up car loan interest rates

All banks, except DBS, have raised rates to 2.68%; more tweaks expected

The widely expected rise in interest rates for car buyers has materialised, since measures to restrict the amount and tenure of loans were introduced in March to cool the market.

As of yesterday, DBS Bank remained the only bank sticking to the old rate of 1.88 per cent per annum. All the others have raised interest rates almost uniformly to 2.68 per cent since the first mover - believed to be Citibank - revised its rate upwards in March.

The higher charges came after the Government announced measures in late February to cool the motor market, including restricting the loan amount to no more than 60 per cent of a car's purchase price, to be repaid in no more than five years.

As a result, banks and other lenders faced a substantial drop in interest earnings, which they are now trying to recoup with higher interest charges.

Consumers will now spend more on car loans. For instance, a $100,000 five-year loan at the new rate translates to interest amounting to $13,400 - up from $9,400 if the lending rate was 1.88 per cent. That works out to a 43 per cent increase.

But it is still less than half what the banks would have earned before the curbs, when car loans were unrestricted.

As a result, observers reckon there may be further adjustments. There is wide speculation that banks will increase housing loan rates as well to shore up earnings.

Lenders were reluctant to comment on the rate hike, with most saying they were merely "following the industry".

Citibank, which industry players said was the first to raise the interest rate, refused to comment. Even DBS, which has stuck to the old rate, preferred to remain silent.

But the public is not taking kindly to the increased charges.

Property agent Eddie Low, 63, said: "That's not right. This development had nothing to do with the market - it was government regulation. So I don't think they should simply pass the cost on. The consumer is bullied in many instances."

Mr Low, who owns an eight- year-old Nissan Sunny, said he is hoping certificate of entitlement (COE) prices will fall so that he can get a new car.

COE premiums have fallen from over $90,000 since the curbs to settle in the low $60,000s. But yesterday, there was an upward surge with premiums rising to as high as $67,304.

Motor traders said the increase in interest rates has not had a significant impact on consumer sentiment.

Mr Chin Kee Min, senior manager of Kia distributor Cycle & Carriage Kia, said: "Compared to the cooling measures, this is nothing."

Mr Raymond Tang, secretary of the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association, said demand for used cars has been strong since the Government lifted the loan curbs on second-hand cars for 60 days.

This was because being able to borrow up to 100 per cent of the purchase price and to repay the loan over 10 years was a huge draw.

christan@sph.com.sg

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