If there is one phrase Ryan Garrison hears over and over, it is this: “That was the best car buying experience I’ve ever had.”
What makes it so good? Probably that Garrison’s Washington Auto Credit helps people with credit challenges purchase quality vehicles through the I-5 Auto Group. “We eliminate the smoke and mirrors that people usually think about when buying a car,” he says. “We get rid of the guesswork by pre-approving our customers before they pick out a vehicle.”
“We focus on helping customers that many dealers simply do not want to spend time on. We help a lot of people with recent bankruptcies, but we help all credit types and challenges. Whether we are working with someone with a recent repossession, divorce, or something else. We simply try to find the best loan for people in challenging situations.”
Customers are often leery after previous negative experiences with purchasing vehicles. “If a customer misses their appointment with us, it’s usually because they’re skeptical and don’t believe that we can help them,” says Garrison. “They’ve been to other dealerships, they’ve been told that they were approved, but after wasting six hours at the dealership, the customer finds out they were lied to. It is easy to get burnt out from an experience like that.”
“We are very different,” he says, “we’re showing people what they can do after getting them approved. Usually when you go to a dealership, the salesperson is just trying to get you excited about a car without ever really knowing if you can afford to buy it or get approved for the loan. That’s why we all know somebody that bought a car with a $700 monthly payment, after they went to the dealership hoping to buy a car with a $350 payment. With Washington Auto Credit, we help figure out your budget, investigate your needs, show you vehicles you are really approved for, and then ask ‘Do you want to do it?’. To me, it just makes more sense to buy a car that way, especially if you have credit challenges.”
As a result, Washington Auto Credit gets a lot of repeat business, even after customers have improved their credit rating. “A lot of times their credit has improved significantly so they don’t have to come to us again, but they choose to come back because the way we do business,” says Garrison.
In recent years the Washington Auto Credit has added a program that grants customers early access to their tax refund so that a portion can be used as down payment for a vehicle. The program offers substantial benefits for the demographic they serve. “The majority of our clients are making a need-based purchase and do not have a lot of disposable income,” says Garrison. “Their previous vehicle may have just broken down, been repossessed, or been in an accident. They need a car right away. We offer guaranteed credit approval, but sometimes a loan approval requires more down payment than the customer currently has in their pocket or bank account.”
Many of the families Washington Auto Credit helps have credit challenges and have four or five people to transport. Often, the family’s combined monthly income is only $2,500 to $3,500. “It is almost impossible for some people to set aside enough cash for down payment for a car. The only time that actually happens is tax season. For our customers, that is the middle of January through the middle of March because they file right away,” says Garrison. “We’ve had a lot of success over the years helping people during tax season. Often, our customers are waiting for their tax refund to buy a car because that’s the only time they’re going to have the down payment that they need to buy a reliable vehicle.”
“I have had many customers over the years that really need a reliable car. They know they need their tax refund to be able to buy one, but somewhere between receiving the refund and making it in to see us, they chose to purchase a nice sofa or TV and no longer had the down payment the needed for their loan. Those discretionary items do not help people get to work each day,” Garrison says. Washington Auto Credit’s solution: a company called Tax Refund Services (TRS), which does clients’ taxes right there at the auto dealership and allows the customer immediate access to a portion of their tax refund.
“Tax Refund Services is the tax preparer,” says Garrison. “We help them with a small amount of data entry and by faxing or emailing paperwork over to them. By using TRS, we’re able to access the refund right away rather than having to wait for the IRS to get the money to you.” Washington Auto Credit doesn’t charge any additional fees for the service; TRS’s fees are comparable to any other tax preparation service, and those fees are simply deducted from the tax refund. “Their fees are often lower than many other places, and you can be in your new vehicle sooner,” he says.
While the program can work for any credit type, he warns that not everyone will qualify. “We call an IRS phone number with the customer to make sure there aren’t old student loans, child support, or tax liens that might affect your refund,” he says.
Typically, Washington Auto Credit uses only a small percentage of the refund for a down payment, and that amount varies depending on the customer and the vehicle they want to buy. “We don’t want to use your whole refund,” says Garrison. “Usually, we just use enough to help you buy a car you like that meets your family’s needs. Usually, the customers that use TRS only apply 5% to 20% of their tax refund to their car purchase.”
Additionally, this year clients who use the tax service may also be eligible for a pre-paid debit card of up to $400 or $750 to access a portion of their refund sooner. Ninety percent of those who apply will be approved, says Garrison. “They get to have access to that money right away, in addition to the money that we’re using for helping them get a car.”