Monday, March 09, 2015

"Electronic Filing Fee" (aka "Dealer Fee")

After a decade of authoring newspaper columns, blog posts, and hosting radio talk shows, I like to think that I’ve contributed somewhat to Floridians’ awareness of the “Dealer Fee”. For those who still don’t know what a “dealer fee” is, it’s extra profit to car dealers that they take from you by adding an amount to the price of the car they advertise or quote you when you ask for the price. The Florida legislature has addressed this issue by making a law that car dealers must include their “dealer fee” in the price of the cars they advertise. There is no limit on the amount a car dealer can charge for dealer fee and there is no regulation on what the dealer can name his dealer fee. Most other states do have limits and do require that that the dealer fee be identified by name. 

Some of the other names for the Dealer Fee are Doc Fee, Documentary Fee, Notary and Closing Fee, Administrative Fee, Handling Fee, Dealer Prep Fee, Dealer Pre-Delivery Fee, and Dealer Services Fee. Oftentimes dealers use more than one dealer fee. I’ve seen three dealer fees by different names on the same buyer’s order. The dealer in this illustration has two, “Dealer Services and “Electronic Filing Fee.” These two dealer fees total $1,597.99. Bear in mind that this is additional price mark-up, profit to the dealer in addition to the price you were quoted. 

A few years ago with the advent of data processing technology, companies were formed that offered a new service to car dealers. These companies take the raw data from the car sale transaction and automatically register and title the car that the dealer sells. Up until this time, car dealers had been performing this task in-house and paying someone called a “title clerk” for this. The new automated service saved car dealers lots of time and money and today every car dealer now uses this service. The cost to the dealer is minimal, about $10 per car sale. These data processing companies take the data directly from the car dealers’ computers when they process the sales transaction and almost instantaneously register and title the car. I would estimate the dollar-savings in time and the clerical cost to be over $100 per car sale. My dealership sells over 400 new and used vehicles per month and this service is saving me about $40,000 monthly! 

What most businesses would do with this windfall savings in expense would be one of two things. (1) Pass the savings along to the customer to increase the sales volume and/or (2) take the $100 expense reduction to immediately increase the profit. 

Unfortunately, that’s not enough for most car dealers. Almost all car dealers in Florida took this cost savings, called it an expense, marked it up, and charged it to their customers! Only some dealers disclose this on their vehicle’ buyer’s order as Florida law requires, disclosing that this charge represents “profit to the dealer”. Florida law considers the “Electronic Filing Fee” just another dealer fee. Soon dealers realized that this windfall “cost savings” to them could be multiplied thousands of times by marking it up and charging their customers. The “beauty” of the electronic filing fee (aka e-filing fee) is that it sounds/looks like it is the charge for the dealers registering and titling your car. Remember that in the past this expense was absorbed by the dealer and the companies that automated this for only $10 per transaction represents a $100 cost savings! The example that you see in the illustration in this article marks up this dealer’s cost of the automated data service by 5,989%! 

Many car dealers do not disclose the fact that the electronic filing fee is, in fact, just another dealer fee. This is illegal but our regulators claim they are understaffed and too busy to enforce this law, or they claim that they aren’t receiving complaints on this issue. If you have paid an electronic filing fee that was not legally disclosed you can access the method to file complaints at this website, www.FloridaCarDealerComplaints.com.

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