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Consumer PSA: Thrifty Car Rental

When car company rental agreements say they will perform a "debit card screening" prior to letting you rent a car, this really means "We will run a full credit check that will show up on your credit report as a hard inquiry and may impact your credit score for up to two years."  Essentially, if you want to pay cash for a car rental, your credit report looks the same as if you'd applied for a loan to purchase the vehicle.

I made this discovery a day after I rented through Thrifty Car Rentals in LA.  I carry a single credit card, and deliberately keep the credit limit low.  Between my recent trip, and the trip coming up in a couple weeks, I'd come close to my credit limit, but knew I had plenty to pay for the car rental.  But Thrifty wanted to hold nearly three times the car rental amount when I picked up the car, and I didn't have that much available credit.  No problem, think I, because my back account had more than enough to cover the hold and my other expenses.  When I was told there would be a "debit card evaluation," I assumed that had something to do with my, y'know, debit card--checking to ensure I had enough to cover the cost.

The next day, I received an email from my credit monitoring service indicating a hard inquiry had been made.  Surprise!  That's what Thrifty calls a "debit card screening."

Thrifty's customer service responded to my complaint by stating their policy of "credit inquiry" is "clearly disclosed," then quoted their Policy Information: "Customers using debit cards to qualify to rent at the beginning of the rental will be subject to a debit card screening, which may impact the customer's credit evaluation. If the screening fails to meet our debit card criteria, the customer will be required to present a major credit card in order to qualify to rent."

Does anyone see the phrase "credit inquiry" in the section quoted to me?  No.  The deceptive language, however, is pretty easy to spot.  Besides, I didn't know I was "qualifying" for anything.  I thought I was purchasing a service.  Turns out car rental companies think they're doing me a monumental favor by letting me pay for a service.  And I did present a credit card.  They just wanted me to have more credit available on it.

Thrifty isn't alone in their policy of treating cash--even a large cash deposit--as inferior to credit.  I've been asked to put down huge cash deposits, for example, which I've always found amusing.  But I've never had a company want to run a credit check before taking my cash.

Other companies call a credit check what it is.  When I rented from Avis, they were up front about the policy both in their written materials and their verbal report.  Thrifty is deliberately deceptive in their language, and is seemingly quite proud of it. 

It may be perfectly legal for random service providers to view a person's credit report at will and without informed consent.  But it's a pretty crappy form of customer service.  Perhaps they get away with it because the industry doesn't have a competing business model.

In the meantime, I've sent a payment to credit card provider to zero out my account, just in case some other random service provider adopts the same policy while I'm on vacation in March.


Blair MacGregor

Latest Month

May 2017


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