Gas pumps can bring debit card surprise

March 2, 2012 5:38:52 AM PST
High gas prices could be cutting into your bank account in ways you do not even realize. That's because if you pay with plastic, you could be locked out of getting your money for days at a time.

If you pay at the pump using a debit card, you may be surprised to learn a hold is placed on your account that keeps up to $100 frozen until the transaction clears. It's not a problem, usually.

Jesse Rodriguez spends about 60 bucks to fill up his Dodge Charger, but not long ago that fill up tied up a lot more cash than that.

He recalled, "I swiped my card, bank card, as credit and for some reason it stopped after $6. Then, not thinking, I swiped again and this time put in my PIN number and used it as a debit card and this time it stopped at $1."

Frustrated, Rodriguez says he then went inside the gas station, gave the attendant his debit card then filled up his car. When Rodriguez went back into pay there was a problem.

"They said, 'Well, the machine won't take the card,'" he said.

Rodriguez says all this took place the Saturday of Presidents Day weekend. Because his bank was closed on Monday, Rodriguez says he called Tuesday to see what happened and got a big surprise.

"They said I had a credit hold of $126 for the first transaction of $6 and a $100 hold for the second transaction of $1," he said.

Rodriguez was told he could not access all his money until after the holds expired, another two full days.

"That was four or five days that I had a credit hold," Rodriguez said.

The practice of placing holds on debit card accounts at gas pumps is nothing new. It happens because when you pay at the ump the exact total is not known. Holds generally expire within hours of buying gasoline. But consumers could end up unable to access their own money for longer periods of time. Fortunately there are ways to avoid debit card balance holds.

Leah Napolielo with the Houston Better Business Bureau advised, "First you can go inside the station, pay that way. ... You could also pay cash."

The holds are placed on accounts because when you pay at the pump there's no way to know what the final price will be, but by paying beforehand the exact amount is no mystery.


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