Depending on the card you use and where you top off, gas stations can place holds of $100 or more on your account each time you start refueling. The hold is of course only temporary, and the amount you didn’t spend is given back to you eventually after the transaction is over. However, as gas prices have risen, so too have those holds — and they’re up to $175 if you pay via Visa or Mastercard, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The hold a gas station places on your card represents the maximum allowable transaction, which has had to increase along with per-gallon prices. According to the Journal, Visa found that some customers with particularly large, gas-guzzling vehicles haven’t been able to fill up in one transaction alone, which prompted the company to raise the holds.
This affects those of us paying by debit considerably worse than credit users, for several reasons. For one, the hold for a credit card is typically a very small amount, like a dollar, simply to check the validity of the payment method. In that case, the dollar goes against your line of credit. Even if you surpass your credit limit, you may still be allowed to keep spending.
On the other hand, if you pay by debit it’s not uncommon to be hit with triple figures. And if you don’t have $175 in your account, that charge — albeit temporary — could trigger overdraft fees and prevent you from using your debit card at all until the hold clears. That could take hours, maybe an entire day. “While gas stations set the pre-authorization amount, the card issuers determine how long the hold stays on your account,” according to the AARP.
So, yeah — unsurprising as ever, poor people are inconvenienced the worst by this. That’s not to say there aren’t options around it.
If you can’t use credit or cash, holds for debit transactions that require PIN codes clear much more quickly. Of course, that won’t help you purchase any amount of gas if you don’t have $175 in your account, but it will allow you to use all of your funds again immediately after the payment is completed. In my experience it’s not typically obvious whether a payment terminal will require a PIN code, though — so in those cases it may be best to pay inside the store.
Whatever you have to do to get through this, good luck. When gas prices go up by as much as they have this year, the consequences extend well beyond the sum that appears on the screen.