Buy a car, get a credit card. That’s the promotion being offered by a South Florida auto dealer.

Customers who buy or lease a new or used car from

Craig Zinn Automotive Group, automatically qualify for a secured credit card from

Sterling Bank & Trust in Southfield, Mich.

Dealer covers upfront cost

In this case, the Hollywood, Fla.-based auto dealer pays the card’s annual fee of $39 and the deposit for the card’s $240 credit limit. The card comes with a 19.90 annual percentage rate. With a secured card, money must be deposited into a bank account, which serves as security for the card. If the bill isn’t paid, the money in the account may be used to cover the debt.

“It’s wonderful if you’ve got credit that’s a little shaky or you’re a little behind, or if you have no credit,” said David Matthews, a business manager at Craig Zinn.

But shouldn’t people who qualify for an auto loan be able to get an unsecured credit card on their own? “That’s entirely possible. It would depend on a person’s credit report,” said Steve Baker, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s regional office in Chicago.

Something for nothing?

Some consumer experts were skeptical of the offer — especially the $240 credit card deposit and $39 annual fee paid by the dealer.

“You don’t get something for nothing,” said Jean Ann Fox, director of consumer protection for Consumer Federation of America. “They’re probably subsidizing the secured card deposit and annual fee out of what they expect you to pay for the car and in the financing or leasing arrangements.”

But Zinn’s Matthews said the secured card is a separate deal that is not even offered until the sale is complete — and it does not affect the payment or selling price. Sterling Bank would not comment on the offer, saying it is a pilot program that may not last.

“It’s a very odd thing,” said Linda Sherry, editorial director of

Consumer Action, a consumer advocacy group based in San Francisco. “If you pay your car payments on time for a couple months, you may be able to get your credit back on track and get an unsecured card anyway.”

Experts urge car buyers to approach each aspect of auto buying separately: the sale or trade in of a current car; the price of the car they are buying and the financing. At least one consumer expert feels the last thing a consumer needs to be worrying about is whether to take a credit card.

“It’s hard to keep the details of a car purchasing transaction straight under the best of circumstances,” Fox said. “Adding on whether you need a secured card seems unnecessarily complicated. If you’re in the market for a credit card you should comparison shop for the best deal.”

When weighing secured card offers, consider the rates and any fees associated with the card. Be prepared to shell out money for the deposit and a fairly hefty annual fee, often $35 or more. Avoid cards that ask for application or processing fees.

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