LAS VEGAS – Lenders, when weighing whether to grant an auto loan, “should look at the person,” not strictly focus on credit scores, says William Underriner, incoming chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Assn.

“A lot of good people hit a rock” during the hard times of recent years, he says, referring to job losses, reduced home values, mortgage foreclosures and other economic ills the recession brought on.

Many of those Americans saw their once-high credit scores drop to non-prime and subprime levels below 600 as they struggled to make ends meet.

Deadbeats who borrow with no intention of paying back are one thing. Upstanding citizens who stumbled during hard times are something else, Underriner says at the American Financial Services Assn.’s vehicle-finance conference held here in conjunction with the NADA convention.

“Lenders need to look at things other than credit scores because a lot of people who now are in the 500s are good people who had some problems,” he says. “Lenders should look at their time on the job and how long they have owned a home, if they still own a home.”

Lenders often do consider human factors in deciding whether to extend credit. Relying solely on a credit score, even if it is high, can present an incomplete picture. Some people with high credit scores can end up as bad loan risks because of other factors that a creditor overlooked.

Auto lending froze when the credit industry went Arctic in 2008 and 2009. But credit has thawed, and even subprime lending has made something of a comeback.

Still, in electronic polling of AFSA conference attendees, 47% of them picked access to financing as the No.1 dealer concern today. That topped all other concerns in the polling.

When the recession occurred, lenders began placing greater restrictions on borrowers, such as requiring substantial down payments, in contrast to pre-recession times when down payments sometimes weren’t necessary.

“Customers were shocked at first when they were told they needed to put 20% down on a car,” says dealer David Westcott of the Westcott Automotive group in Burlington, NC. “Now they are over their shock. They realize a down payment can help them avoid negative equity on their vehicle.”

Most consumers understand “walking away from an auto loan is not a good idea,” because vehicles are transportation necessities, says Gary Reynolds, a NADA officer who sells both cars and boats in Lyme, CT.

“With the exception of a bass boat, they will make that car payment first,” he quips.