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Did You Know Credit Scores Are Used by Rental Car Companies?

Written by Allison Martin

You’ve worked tirelessly to save enough money for a trip to sunny Miami Beach. And in a few short hours, you’ll be on your way to a long, relaxing weekend of fun.

So, you head to the nearest rental car location to pick up the convertible you reserved. All is well until you hand the sales representative a debit card. That’s when she notifies you that a deposit between $300 and $500 will be held on the card. Even worse, they’ll be running a credit check to confirm you meet the minimum qualification criteria.

There goes your plans for the weekend.

But why? Besides not having a few hundred bucks to spare beyond what you’ve allocated for the trip, your credit is shot from a recent string of financial missteps. Therefore, you’re almost certain that your credit score isn’t even close to what they’d like to see. And since your car is a clunker, there’s no way you can put it on the road.

Perhaps you can reschedule and try again in a few months. Bummer.

Why Do Rental Car Companies Care About Your Credit Score?

They don’t, unless you’re paying with a debit card. From their perspective, you pose less of a risk when using a credit card. However, those who only have debit cards at their disposal could very well be on the lower end of the credit spectrum. Furthermore, how will the rental car company recoup their losses if the vehicle is damaged?

For these reasons, a credit check is typically a prerequisite when renting with a debit card.

A Closer Look at Policies By Company

  • Alamo: debit cards are only accepted with proof of round-trip plane ticket. Deposit requirement varies by location.
  • Avis: credit check is required to rent with a debit card, along with two forms of identification. In addition, a $100 hold applies with prepaid rentals.
  • Budget: credit check is required to rent with a debit card, but the deposit amount varies by location.
  • Dollar: credit check and deposit of up to $350 or 15 percent of the estimated charges are required to rent a car with a debit card.
  • Enterprise: credit check required to rent with a debit card. A deposit is also required, but the amount varies by location.
  • Hertz: credit check, two forms of identification, and a deposit of up to $200 required to rent a car with a debit card.
  • National: debit cards are only accepted with proof of round-trip plane ticket. Deposit requirements vary by location.
  • Thrifty: deposit of up to $350 or 15 percent of estimated rental charges and a credit check is required to rent a car with a debit card.

You should also know that a lower credit score may equate to a larger minimum deposit requirement. Furthermore, the deposit could be held on your card for up to 15 days, depending on the rental car company.

How It Impacts Your Credit Score

If you don’t have a credit card at your disposal or are adamant about renting with a debit card, the rental car company will perform a credit check. If it lands on your credit report as a hard inquiry, you credit score will decrease by a few points. It’s not the end of the world, but multiple inquiries in a short time frame can do major damage.

Streamlining the Process

A few suggestions to prepare for the visit:

Plan Ahead
Give the location a call to confirm they accept debit cards. If so, inquire about the deposit and documentation requirements so you’ll know what to expect upon arrival. Next, start stashing away funds for the deposit. It may be uncomfortable to do so, but it beats scraping up cash at the last-minute or wiping out your savings account to meet the deposit requirement. Plus, you won’t have to worry about missing any other payments while waiting on the hold to be released from your debit card.

Shop Around
The cheapest option isn’t necessarily the best option when renting with a debit card. If you find a rental that costs a tad bit more but requires a substantially lower deposit, it may be smarter to go with the more expensive company.

Lower Your Standards
Some rental car companies have a fleet of oversized SUVs or luxury cars for renters to choose from. Unfortunately, these options may not be available to you as a debit card renter. If you’re unwilling to compromise on a make, model or body style, call the rental car company beforehand to confirm it’s not an excluded option.

Be Prepared to Show Two Forms of Identification
It’s not uncommon for rental car companies to request additional forms of identification when using a debit card. This could include a household bill to confirm your address or a complete travel itinerary. Have this documentation available when you pick up the vehicle.

Inquire About Age and Mileage Restrictions
While these restrictions may also apply to those using a credit card, some rental car companies prohibit individuals who are under the age of 25 from renting a vehicle. Furthermore, renting with a debit card could also mean you’re unable to exceed a certain mileage threshold or travel out of state. Since rules may vary by location, call the direct line of the location you’re planning to rent from.

Apply for a Secured Credit Card
As a last resort, you can apply for a secured credit card. While you’ll have to deposit funds to access the available credit line, it eliminates the credit screening requirement. Plus, you’ll be able to start rebuilding your credit profile if the card is managed responsibly.

Is There a Way Around It?

The best way to circumvent the credit check requirement is to use a credit card. You can always use it to secure the vehicle and pay with cash or a debit card when it’s returned. That way, you won’t have to wait around for the deposit to be refunded. Plus, you’ll avoid the dreaded credit check.

About the author

Allison Martin

Allison Martin is a digital content strategist and personal finance junkie. Her work has appeared on on a number of reputable sites, including The Wall Street Journal, Investopedia, Daily Finance, MSN Money and She also travels around the nation facilitating financial literacy workshops for nonprofits, governmental organizations, colleges and universities.

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