Debit Card Holds and Paying at the Pump: What You Need to Know

Has this happened to you? You fill up your tank, swiping your debit card at the pump, on your way to the grocery store. Once there, you load your cart with everything your family needs for the week, and slide your card to pay.

But rather than handing you the receipt and sending you on your way, the cashier looks at you and says, “Your card was declined.”

“That’s not possible. There must be an error,” you protest. You knew you were cutting it close with your balance, but you’ve been keeping track. You have that money in your account.

And if you’re like most of the members who’ve come to us in this situation, you’d be right. That money is in your checking—but because of the amount the gas station held when you paid at the pump, that entire amount isn’t available, meaning your next transaction may overdraw your account or decline. If you didn’t know about the holds at the time, later you see unexplained overdraft fees on your statement.

Why does this happen?

When you pre-pay for gasoline at the pump, the gas station doesn’t know how much gas you’re going to buy. Stations want to make sure you can afford to fill up—so they authorize holds of $50, $75, even $100. This is not a decision Consumers has anything to do with or can change. It’s an internal decision by the gas company.

The trouble is that these holds don’t fall off immediately. If you only purchased $15 to top off your tank, until the station processes that transaction and the hold falls off, that extra $35-$85 remains unavailable.

How can you avoid unnecessary holds?

Unfortunately, whether you push “credit” or “debit” to process your card at the pump makes little difference in the hold you will see on your account. Selecting debit should eliminate the unnecessary hold earlier, but it’s not a guarantee.

The easiest way to avoid having the gas station hold any more than you’re pumping is to pay inside. Those who prefer to pay at the pump are better off swiping a credit card, not a debit card. If you go that route, you won’t have to worry about not having access to the funds in your checking. (You’ll just want to make sure you pay off your credit card balance each month if the reason you’ve been using your debit card is because you hate to carry a balance.)

If you do have a hold on your account as you’re out shopping (or you’re not sure and want to check), you can find out about it by logging into our mobile site from your smart phone or texting PEND plus your account nickname via our text banking service.

Have you experienced the pain of extra holds at the pump? What have you found helpful for avoiding them? Share in the comments!

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