This year could see U.S. auto sales decline for the first time since the industry emerged from the 2009 recession, meaning automotive lenders and dealers no longer can rely solely on record vehicle sales month after month to grow their businesses.

This lack of increasing demand could present a challenge as consumers spend less time in the dealership before purchasing a car. In fact, the average car buyer spends 60% of his total purchase process online, as reported by Cox Automotive in its 2017 Car Buyer Journey Study.

So how do brick-and-mortar dealerships adapt to remain competitive in this changing marketplace? One way is to make the car-buying process as efficient as possible for the consumer.

To facilitate this efficiency, dealers should consider a best practice one of their lending partners might use, such as leveraging instant income and employment verifications.

Manually verifying employment and income may slow down or even derail the car-buying process. It can take days to track down and contact a customer’s employer to verify the information provided on an application.

While the dealership conducts its due diligence to determine whether a potential customer has the income and assets to repay a vehicle loan, there is a risk the customer may lose interest or find a different vehicle from a competitor instead. One way to speed up the process is for the dealer to obtain instant verification of an applicant’s employment-related financial resources from a third-party service.

Instant verifications used in the early stages of the loan process can give dealers a clearer picture of their customer’s ability to make payments. The dealer also can use verifications to confirm if the consumer qualifies for an employee-pricing program through his employer’s benefits package.

Instant verifications provide access to employer-reported payroll data that includes information such as active or inactive employment status, length of time employed and income level (including wages, bonuses and commissions). In addition to being readily available at a moment’s notice, the verification database frequently is updated directly by employers as payroll information is brought up to date.

By obtaining an instant verification at the point of application, dealers have the information they need in a matter of seconds to quickly and confidently make a determination regarding a consumer’s ability to pay. Rather than relying on credit scores alone, dealers can use these services to confirm income levels, pay frequency and job tenure – attributes that provide an extra level of analysis for identifying or mitigating risk.

Utilizing payroll data from a third-party database can help dealers identify situations when a customer misstates his or her income. In such cases, dealers more often find an individual has understated, rather than inflated, his or her income on a loan application. Equifax research found only 15% of applicants overstate their incomes. With instant income verifications, dealers can identify instances when a customer under-reports his or her wages and therefore may qualify for better financing terms.

Another attribute that is verifiable through third-party payroll databases is job tenure, which can be highly indicative of an applicant’s repayment risk. In fact, consumers whose job tenure is one year or less are almost twice as likely to go delinquent on an auto loan compared with consumers who have job tenure of 10 or more years.

Verifications of employment also can provide insight into whether a consumer recently has terminated employment with a particular employer or switched employers – details that would not be reflected on a pay stub. Combining an applicant’s up-to-date employment history with corresponding income information provides the visibility a dealer needs to evaluate a consumer’s propensity to repay vehicle loans at a particular amount.

Lenders already are benefiting from having instant access to this level of data and insight, and dealers now have the opportunity to incorporate income and employment verifications into their own workflows, allowing them to create a more efficient car-buying process for both their customers and their businesses.

John Giamalvo is vice president-Dealer Services at Equifax. He can be reached at john.giamalvo@equifax.com.