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Whether you're taking a long-awaited vacation or in a rush and have to rent a car at the last minute, the last thing you want is to be stuck at a rental car agency with an agent who refuses to hand you the keys. However, sometimes poor credit can keep you from renting a car. A credit check may be required to rent a car depending on what type of payment method you use.
When You Might Need a Credit Check to Rent a Car
The policies vary depending on the rental car company and the location where you're renting, but generally, a credit check is only a requirement if you rent a car using a debit card. If you use a credit card, the policies tend to be much more lenient.
The idea may be that someone who doesn't have a credit card could have trouble paying for incidental charges, such as a late return, or for damages after an accident. Running a credit check could help the agency ensure the renter has a history of paying bills on time and isn't currently behind on any accounts.
What Credit Score Do You Need to Rent a Car?
Car rental agencies may have a minimum credit score requirement to rent a vehicle. However, they rarely publicize that score requirement.
In February 2019, Dollar Car Rental, part of Hertz, announced it would eliminate credit checks and proof of return travel, as well as lower the age restriction, for debit card users. It also revealed that Dollar Car Rental previously had a minimum score requirement of 660.
Other rental agencies may have a similar score requirement, but many are more concerned with specific types of information in your report rather than the score. For example, having a history of late payments or multiple delinquent accounts could make it harder to rent a car.
How Renting a Car Impacts Your Credit
If the rental agency runs your credit, a hard inquiry could be added to your credit report. Hard inquiries might hurt your credit scores by a few points and typically remain on your credit reports for about 24 months. However, the impact of a single hard inquiry tends to dissipate within a few months.
Generally, one hard inquiry won't have a major impact on your scores—it might not impact your scores at all—and you shouldn't let the potential of a hard inquiry keep you from renting a car or opening a new account when you need one.
If you're worried about the hard inquiry and you have a credit card but don't want to use it for the rental, you may be able to put your credit card on file to avoid the inquiry and then pay with your debit card when you return the vehicle.
How to Rent a Car Without a Credit Card
If you don't have a credit card, you'll probably be able to rent a car with many car rental agencies using a debit card. And whether or not they perform a credit check, you may need to provide additional documentation and there could be limitations on your rental.
Here are a few examples of companies' rules and requirements:
- You might only be able to use a debit card if it has a Visa, Mastercard or Discover logo.
- You might not be able to rent a vehicle with a debit card if you're under 25 years old.
- You might not be able to rent certain types of vehicles, such as a luxury or premium car, unless you meet additional requirements.
- If you're renting from an airport location, you may need to show proof of your incoming flight and your return flight.
- You may need to show additional forms of identification, such as your driver's license plus a passport, utility bill or a different card with your name embossed on it (such as a second debit card or store card with your photo).
- A hold could be placed on funds in the checking account that's linked to the debit card you use to rent a car. The hold amount can vary, but could be $200 or a percentage of the total rental amount. You won't be able to use the money while it's being held, so be sure you have enough money in your account to avoid overdrafts. It may take a couple weeks for the funds to be released.
Sometimes you can avoid the hold on funds or additional identification if you join the company's frequent renter program and add your debit card to your account prior to renting.
Additionally, be aware that some rental car locations don't accept debit cards or cash at all. If you're booking travel ahead of time, call ahead and make sure the agency's policies won't interfere with your travel plans.
You may also want to check your credit reports before renting a car and look for potentially problematic marks, such as several accounts with past-due balances. You can check your Experian credit report for free online.
Keep an Eye on Your Credit
Rental car agencies are one of many types of organizations that will check your credit before accepting an application or opening a new account. Even if you don't plan on renting with a debit card soon, you may want to regularly check your credit reports for incorrect information. An account or inquiry you don't recognize could be a sign of identity theft, and learning about the theft early allows you to take action and protect yourself from additional fraud.