Using your debit card at a gas pump

Most gas stations will allow you to use a debit card to pay for fuel, but there are some things you should know before you fill up on fuel.

This article examines everything you need to know about using your debit card at a gas station, from the price of the fuel to the safety of the transaction, and even how the bank processes a debit card differently.

TFF22-073 - Using your debit card at a gas pump.

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Can I Use My Debit Card at a Gas Station?

You can use your debit card at almost all gas stations as a form of payment for your select grade of fuel. Some gas stations will allow you to pay for the transaction at the pump. Other gas stations will require that you go into the gas station store or kiosk to complete the purchase.

Depending on how that gas station processes transactions, they may treat your debit card as either credit or debit. 

Using Your Debit Card as Credit at a Gas Station

Some gas stations will process your debit card as a credit card. If you pay at the pump, the pump system will do one of two things:

1. Funds are withheld

After inserting or swiping your debit card for the transaction, the system will put a temporary hold on your debit card for a specific amount. The amount ranges from as low as $1 to as much as $100.

Then, the pump will activate, and you’ll put as much fuel into your vehicle as you need.

The temporary hold on your card will be released in 24 to 72 hours, and the actual amount charged to your debit card will be processed.

2. Funds are withdrawn

After inserting or swiping your debit card for the transaction, the system will prompt you for your zip code as a security measure. The zip code you enter must be the zip code that is tied to that card and checking account, or the transaction will be declined.

Then, the pump will activate, and you’ll put as much fuel into your vehicle as you need.

The transaction will be charged to your account immediately, and the funds will be deducted.

In most cases, the system will only allow you to pump as much gas as there is money in your account.

Using Your Debit Card as Debit at a Gas Station

Using your debit card as a traditional debit card at a gas station will almost always require you to enter your debit card PIN at the pump or inside the gas station store if paying with the attendant.

To do this, insert your debit card or swipe it, then follow the prompts on the screen. You’ll need to select “Debit” on some screens before you begin the transaction. On other screens, you’ll be prompted to select whether you want to run your debit card as debit or credit after you insert or swipe it.

According to Sapling, debit card purchases at the gas station will work as electronic cash, meaning the money will come out of your checking account immediately after you finish pumping gas.

Pros of Using Your Debit Card at a Gas Station

Some gas stations may offer you a cheaper rate on your fuel purchase for using debit since they treat it as cash. You may see a “Cash” rate and a “Credit” rate on the fuel cost sign in front of the gas station.

But others treat your debit just as if it were a credit transaction, so ask the attendant if you’re getting a better deal by using your debit card at the pump.

Debit cards are also a very convenient way to pay for something as if it were cash. Most often, the money from your fuel purchase is deducted right out of your checking account. This makes it easier to keep track of your purchases.

You won’t be charged any interest or fees on your gas purchase on debit cards.

Cons of Using Your Debit Card at a Gas Station

The drawback of using your debit card at a gas station is that it can be financially risky due to credit card skimmers.

Credit card skimmers are devices thieves put on gas pump card readers that steal your debit card or credit card information. These devices are often very hard to spot by an untrained eye, and before you know it, the thief has drained your bank account or used your debit card number to make unauthorized purchases.

While the risk of having your card information stolen is the same whether you use a debit card or a credit card, your liability is not. Some banks will keep you on the hook for up to $500 for unauthorized transactions on your account, while credit card companies can only hold you liable for $50.

Check with your bank to understand the amount of money you’d be out if a thief ever got hold of your debit card information.

Is Debit the Same as Cash at a Gas Station?

At some gas stations, debit is treated the same as cash when it comes to the rate that you’ll pay for the fuel. You may see a gas station sign that says “debit same as cash,” offering as much as a 10 cent discount per gallon of gas simply for using your debit card.

This discount is offered because it costs the gas station less to process the transaction than it would for a credit card purchase.

However, some debit card merchants also charge a fee to the gas station, so fewer gas stations are offering this “cash” discount these days. Often, you’ll see a sign in front of the gas station showing a “cash” rate and “debit/credit” rate. It’s best to check with the attendant to see if you’ll be offered a discount before you pump.

How Long Does It Take for a Gas Station to Charge Your Debit Card?

If you process your debit card as debit at the gas pump, the gas station charges your checking account immediately. Check the fund balance in your mobile banking app, and you’ll see the fuel purchase has been deducted as soon as you leave the pump.

However, if you run the debit card as credit, it may take several days for the final fuel purchase to show up in your account. Some gas stations pre-authorize a small amount to your debit card, often as low as $1, then allow you to pump gas without the purchase being charged to your checking account immediately.

How Much Money Do You Need on Your Debit Card to Get Gas?

If you process your fuel purchase as a traditional debit card when you head to the pump, meaning you enter your PIN to complete the transaction, the pump system will only allow you to spend as much money as you have in your checking account.

However, if you process your debit card as credit, you only need as much money as is pre-authorized by the merchant. This can range from $1 to $100 and serve as a hold on the money in your bank account until the pre-authorize falls off and is replaced by the actual purchase price.

Keep in mind, spending money you don’t have in your checking account can result in overdraft fees. Therefore, you should only use your debit card for money you actually have.

Is It Safe to Use My Debit Card at a Gas Station?

While we’ve discussed the security concerns of card skimmers placed on gas station card readers, you can do a few things to protect yourself and make sure it is safe to use your debit card at a gas station. 

Security National Bank recommends taking the following precautions:

  1. Choose a pump that is closest to the gas station attendant’s line of sight. Thieves are less likely to attempt to place a card skimming device on a pump that is visible to the station attendant for fear of getting caught.
  2. Pay for your transaction with the gas station attendant inside the gas station store. This way, you’re not at risk of your card being skimmed.
  3. Use mobile pay at gas stations that accept this form of payment so you can complete the transaction without ever having to swipe or insert your physical debit card. Mobile pay like Apple Pay or other mobile device options typically encrypts your card information, which is much more difficult to steal.
  4. Examine the pump’s card reader for signs of tampering, which can easily be spotted if the gas station has placed a security seal sticker over the card reader door. If the sticker is broken or not there, you may be dealing with a credit card skimmer.
  5. Check to see that the pump card reader and PIN pad look the same as on other pumps.
  6. Run your debit card as credit so that you aren’t required to enter your PIN information, which thieves can steal.
  7. Insert your card’s chip rather than swiping it. Chipped cards offer more protection against debit card thieves.

Final Thoughts

Using your debit card at a gas station is convenient and may even offer you a cheaper fuel rate than using a credit card, but there are some security drawbacks. Be sure to follow the proper precautions when using your check card at the pump to protect the cash in your bank account.

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