What Do You Need to Rent a Car?

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If you've never rented a car before and aren't sure what you need, you're in for a real treat. Confusing rules regarding car insurance coverage, mileage limits, and hidden surcharges can take all the fun out of your road trip.

Fortunately, a little preparation and research ahead of time can make the experience more rewarding – and far less expensive. So, what do you need to rent a car anyway? And what should you watch out for? Let's dig in.

A Valid Driver's License

If you're renting a car in the United States, you'll need a valid, state-issued driver's license to get off the lot. Not only does a driver's license prove your identity, but it also proves your age, too. While it is commonly assumed that drivers under the age of 25 cannot rent a car, that isn't true. You can rent a car if you're under 25; you'll just have to pay a premium to do so. Either way, a valid driver's license is required to rent a car and be on your way. And if you're renting a car overseas, you'll probably need to present your passport as well.

A Credit Card to Seal the Deal

In addition to a valid driver's license, you'll need a credit card to secure a rental car and pay for the transaction. While you can technically use a debit card in some cases, doing so will allow the car rental agency to put a "hold" on the money in your actual bank account. To avoid that mess, use a credit card to put down the damage deposit and pay for your rental instead. If you don't have a credit card, now is the perfect time to get one. Check out some travel credit card options to compare offers and find the right card for you.

Auto Insurance (or a Credit Card that Provides Coverage)

Generally speaking, the auto insurance you buy for your own vehicle expands to cover any automobiles you rent and drive yourself. However, you should verify this with your car insurance company before making that assumption. If your own personal auto policy does cover rentals, you're free to decline the pricey extended coverage your rental company offers and rely on your own coverage instead. If you want more assurance, however, some credit cards – including the Chase Sapphire Preferred card – offer primary rental coverage for free as a cardholder perk. Meanwhile, others offer less valuable, secondary coverage, often referred to as "Collision Damage Waiver," or CDW. To look for cards that offer this benefit, explore our credit card options – or read up on cards you already have to see if they offer it.

A Handle on the Fine Print

As mentioned above, rental car agents may try to convince you to pay for expensive extended auto rental coverage – whether you need it or not. Unfortunately, this is just one of the situations you should watch out for as you navigate the world of rental car options, plus their terms and conditions, without losing your shirt. Other "gotchas" to watch out for can include hidden surcharges, mileage limits, or fees for adding additional drivers. Always read the fine print before signing on the dotted line, and make sure you have a handle on all the terms and conditions. When it comes to renting a car, what you don't know can hurt you.

Final Thoughts

Whether you're renting an automobile for the first time or the 100th time, it makes sense to know what you'll need before you head to the rental counter. Further, a good handle on the fine print is essential if you want to avoid any extra, hidden, or unnecessary charges. Renting a car should be a fun, freeing experience – not an expensive hassle. Preparing the best you can, and gathering everything on this list, is the best way to ensure it will be.

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