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Did the Gas Pump Take More Than You Paid For?

I got a question in the comments of another post on this site, about something annoying that happened to a reader when he filled up his gas tank:

Q. Can a Credit Card company pull more money than the purchase for a period of time?

Ex. I had 80.00 charged to my account for gasoline and when questioned the Amx guy said they always did that.

I can’t find anything to back this up other than my statement. If true could the companies be making money by holding my money for a period of time. Thanks for any comments.
Michael

Michael, the unfortunate truth is, yes, they can (and often do) do that. They usually only do this on debit cards, but if you have an American Express (Amex) charge card, I can see where they might treat that like a debit card. So what’s the story here – why do they do that, and why are they allowed to do that?

According to the MSN Money article “Hosed at the gas pump — by your debit card,” when you use a debit card at a pump that doesn’t require that you enter in your PIN, your bank can block off an extra amount of money in your account – “often $50 or $75.” Also,

That amount doesn’t “un-block” as you drive away. Instead, the hold remains up to 72 hours, until the station does a “batch” transaction that lets the bank know the actual amount, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

While the length of the hold is up to your bank, the amount of the hold is up to your gasoline retailer.

This annoying (and sometimes harmful) practice is designed to protect the oil companies. When you put your card in, they don’t know how much you’re going to pump, so they want to make sure you can pay for it before they approve you. So they “earmark” a portion of your money to make sure there’s enough in the account.

If you ask me, this is grossly unfair. If you stroll up to the pump with $80 in your account to pay for gas, and then they put a hold on your account for that $80 and then you pump $50 worth of gas – you overdraft!

And although most people might not skirt that close to the bottom of their account, I know plenty of people who do. After all, I’m in college – I hear things like “I’ve only got 30 bucks right now, and I’ve got to save that for gas” all the time.

What can you do to avoid this sticky situation?

Don’t pump with a debit card. This may not always be possible, but it’s a solution, none-the-less, and it’s the one I use. Actually, I try not to use my debit card for any purchases, for a variety of reasons. But this is definitely one of those reasons. And according to reader Michael, this also applies for Amex charge cards. Don’t use them at the pump, if you can help it.

I use my credit card at the pump – cash would obviously also avoid the problem. Cash usually isn’t as convenient, however.

If you do use your debit card, use your PIN. According to the MSN article, PIN-based transactions are processed immediately, without placing a hold on your account. So when it gives you the option to treat your card as a debit card (and enter your PIN) or as a credit card, pick “debit.”

Buy Sunoco gas. I actually noticed this a few months ago, while pumping at Sunoco – they have signs right on their pumps, that say they don’t believe in the practice of putting holds on debit cards, so they don’t do it. Kudos to Sunoco for that! So if you have the option of filling up at Sunoco, know that you can do it without facing a hold on your debit card.

Don’t drain your account down to the bottom. This might be a useless point to give to some of my college-and-minimum-wage readers, but I’ll say it for everyone else – if you can avoid bringing your bank account balance too low before you fill up, you won’t have to worry about whether you’re going to overdraft or not.

Also, keep in mind any checks that you’ve written that haven’t cleared yet, which may end up bouncing if the gas pump puts a hold on your account that lasts more than a day.

If you do get hit with a fee because of a gas station hold, call your bank. Dispute the fee, and do it right away. Politely, but firmly, explain the situation, and you have a good chance of getting the fee(s) reversed, especially if it doesn’t happen very often. This goes in line with the above tip – if holds are constantly making you overdraft, they’re going to stop reversing the fees after the second or so time it happens.

This is a slick, somewhat dirty – but mostly just annoying – practice, so I can see why reader Michael was peeved. I hope these tips help you, Michael – and anyone else who doesn’t like the idea of the gas companies latching onto an extra chunk of their money for a few days.

22 responses to “Did the Gas Pump Take More Than You Paid For?”

  1. Traciatim

    Doesn’t everyone know that this is how credit cards (and now debit cards) work?

    In order for the gas to start pumping it needs to send an authorization request to the institution that issues your card. This places a hold on your card for a certain amount. At a hotel, this is normally the room rent and tax plus 10%, at the pump it’s normally above what you pick to put in your tank, and some ‘larger than normal amount’.

    Now I’m not sure how the pumps do it, but normally all the credit card transactions for the day get held in a kind of ‘ready to go’ state and then settled each night when the business closes their day. This will send the actual amount of the transaction to each financial institution through a credit card processor. At that point, some banks will release the authorization, some don’t. Usually within 72 hours the holds are lifted.

    You can see the terms and conditions on visa.com in their check card section:

    http://tinyurl.com/3xgdwf

    I’m sure it’s same for most credit card/check card issuers.

    Come on people, learn how your tools work.

  2. Traciatim

    Plus, I would assume Sunoco will reverse their trend when they start having people fill their tanks who don’t have money to pay . . . that will be interesting.

    “If you ask me, this is grossly unfair. If you stroll up to the pump with $80 in your account to pay for gas, and then they put a hold on your account for that $80 and then you pump $50 worth of gas – you overdraft!”

    What happens if they don’t hold the funds, since their batches will be done nightly . . . then you pump your gas and then go out and buy some new pants? Then the station gets hosed.

  3. Meari

    Yup. I had the same thing happen to me at a gas station last year. Then I went to a store and tried to use my debit card and it was rejected because of the extra “hold” on my account. I knew I had money in there so I called my bank the following Monday and found out what gas stations do. I no longer use my debit card at the pump.

  4. Mike

    Another way they take more than you paid for is by not compensating for temperature. Getting gas when it’s hotter than 60 degrees F, means that you’re getting less gas than you think. More details of that practice are outlined here: http://www.richerbytheday.com/2008/03/saving-on-gas.html

  5. Peter Mottola

    What’s the deal with Sunoco anyway? Why do people have Sunoco bumper stickers? Is it a cult?

  6. SavingDiva

    I don’t pump with my debit card, but I think I might start going to Sunoco anyway! I think it’s grea that they’re taking a stand against unfair credit practices.

  7. Traciatim

    No one has unfair practices SD. This is kind of like wandering in to a grocery store and eating any food you put in your cart and then paying for it after. It just doesn’t make sense, they need to know you have money to pay the bill before giving you the service.

    Rental car places do it.
    Hotels do it.
    Pay at the pumps do it
    Restaurants do it for tips (they auth 20% more than the bill usually)

    That’s how the cards work, no one is doing anything unfair.

  8. stephanie

    i pumped at sunoco 2 days ago w/ a debit card and they held 75$–from my business bank account that i use for gas and mailing pkgs–imagine my surprise when i got to the post office and had nothing in my account!!!!!!!!! screw sunoco tooo!

  9. ann

    I just pumped at Sunoco today and they put a &75 hold on my debit card so they are practicing this horrible deal too. Screw Sunoco indeed. I will not go there anymore.

  10. Cyrus

    I used to have this problem when getting to my part time job driving. But lately, and I must say, smartly, I’ve been getting around town and campus using an electric motor bike. Works like a charm.

  11. Paris Hotel

    That is why I try to only use cash. Sometimes the way that banks work drives me crazy. But I can understand their reasoning.

  12. Tracie

    It’s hard not to use credit/debit cards these days, but if we want to pay down our debt, we must. Cash is the best practice if you can do it.

  13. Ann

    I prefer to pay on cash whenever I go for a refill.

  14. Annie @ Credit Dispute

    I use to pump with my debit card. But that is over now. After I have encountered some problems with it. Right now, I prefer using my cash(its really hassle free).

  15. andy@asgardsss.co.uk

    Yup happend to me – Put a full tank in (60 worth) went to the cash point one hour later and the card had been blocked.

    2nd time 30 in fuel then some swine behind the counter cloned my card and 2 weeks laster spent 2k over seas!

  16. LIMEY2

    COME TO JOLLY FISHKILL NY THERE IS A MOBIL GAS STATION ON RT 9 THEY POST GAS AT $4.09 CREDIT–$3.99 CASH,WELL I PAID WITH MY DEBIT CARD WITH PIN AND GUESS WHAT IT CAME OUT I PAID THE PRICE OF $4.O9 WHEN I SPOKE TO THE ATTENDANT HE SAID THEY DO NOT HONOR A DEBIT CARD AS CASH ONLY AS A CREDIT CARD,I WILL BE TAKING THIS MATTER UP WITH THE BBB ALSO THE LOCAL NAWSPAPER.

  17. sunshine

    @traciatim, I now go to the bank, get cash (because of the upcharge for credit as well as the hold) pull my screaming two year old out of the car, in the rain, pay cash, start the pump, buckle her.back in and go about my business. No, she may not have gum or milk and I no longer get coffee, soda or anything else at the gas station. I havn’t bought anything in a gas station in years because I feel manipulated into this process and I won’t reward a business owner for behaving that way. I may not have much choice, but I exercise what choices I have. I also tend to avoid upcharge stations if I can. Sonoco doesn’t engage in these practices? Here I come, and please keep the coffee ready for me.

  18. Gabi sandoval

    Thank you for all the information here my big question
    how do these gas station get rated, some charge holds
    are 15,50, 75, Clark station are really bad for this and
    then when you call you get a smart mouthed kid, he told me
    a sign was on one on the pumped for the charge, I told him
    that stupid it like putting a health hazard warning on
    one pack of cigarettes, Exon and Shell charge only one $ for
    a charge until the charge goes through, I will only go to
    Exon or Shell from now on. Tanks again!
    P.s..
    I will be calling by bank on Monday.

  19. jon

    Sunco does do a hold they check for 75 and if your account passes they hold a dollar for about 3 days then they charge the full amount. I go there all the time. I have had less then 75 in my account and had to swipe twice but they still only held the 1 dollar. The secound swipe was to see if I had what I pumped in my account.

  20. rklingsmithjr

    another way to avoid the hold, although a little bit inconvenient, is to take your debit card inside and pre-pay for your gas. i’ve had to do this several times to avoid the dreaded hold…..

  21. Issuldra

    Actually I paid at a Sunoco myself, and they did it to me. Ticked me off something awful because I needed the whopping $70 they earmarked in order to pay my phone bill. Thankfully I was able to scrape it together, but still! No signs on the pump warning about it either!

  22. Rosey

    I was socked with a whopping $150.00 hold fee from Pilot today! What the heck!