Q&A: Auto dealers must abide by credit check limits

Dear Liz: I have loans and have paid my credit cards in full for over 30 years. My FICO score is 829. I don’t really care as I don’t plan to borrow in the future. I check my score and reports occasionally to check for a possible error or scam. Other than this, is there any reason at all that I should care?

I did notice a car dealership checked my score when recently I submitted a down payment check to order a car for which I would pay in full. I don’t believe they would refuse to sell me the car for cash if I had a lousy credit score, so they probably wanted some measure of reassurance about whether I have a lifestyle that could afford completing the deal.

Answer: You have many FICO scores, not just one, but if any one of them is 829, then the rest of them are probably pretty good, too.

Credit scores are used for more than borrowing decisions. In most states (but not California), insurance companies can use credit information to set premiums. Cellphone companies, landlords and utilities use them as well.

Car dealerships, however, aren’t supposed to pull your credit scores without your permission. That’s a violation of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.

If the dealership got your permission by telling you a credit check was necessary for a down payment (or an all-cash deal, for that matter), then it misled you.

To prevent money laundering, dealerships are required to ask for identification and a Social Security or Tax ID number from buyers who are purchasing a car for more than $10,000 in cash. That’s it.

But some dealers pretend the anti-terrorism Patriot Act requires them to check your credit when you pay cash, which is nonsense. Typically, dealerships run credit checks to see if they can make an extra buck by financing the deal. Those checks are coded as hard inquiries that can damage people’s credit scores. (That’s in contrast to what happens when you check your own credit, which creates “soft” inquiries that don’t affect scores.)

Your scores are high, so the credit check probably didn’t ding them much. But the dealership was accessing information about you that it didn’t need to have. Plus, the more outfits that have your credit information, the greater your risk of identity theft.

If you didn’t give your OK, you could file a Fair Credit Reporting Act lawsuit to collect up to $1,000 from the dealership. If you did give your permission, strongly consider withholding it the next time if you’re not interested in financing your vehicle.

Related Posts

Comments

  1. Dear Liz – I am a daily subscriber to The Los Angeles Times and your column is a “must read” for me every time it appears there. I am very grateful for your knowledge, experience and the willingness to share all of this with me. My most recent “find” is the “Auto dealers must abide by credit check limits.” I will be purchasing a new Chevrolet Camaro SS so this column was especially appreciated by me. Thank you VERY MUCH! 8/27/18