Depending on which card you use and where you top up, gas stations can add $100 or more to your account each time you start filling up. Of course, the ban is only temporary, and the amount you didn’t spend will eventually be refunded to you after the transaction is complete. However, as gas prices have risen, so have those holdings—and, according to the Wall Street Journal, they can cost as much as $175 if you pay with Visa or Mastercard.
The gas station balance on your card represents the maximum transaction volume allowed, and it must increase with the price per gallon. According to the Wall Street Journal, Visa found that some customers with particularly large, gas-guzzling vehicles could not fill up in one transaction, prompting the company to add cargo space.
This affects those of us who pay with debit cards much less than credit card users for a number of reasons. On the one hand, credit cards usually have small amounts, like a dollar, just to verify the validity of the payment method. In this case, the dollar goes against your credit limit. Even if you exceed your credit limit, you can still spend.
On the other hand, if you pay by direct debit, you will often encounter triple-digit amounts. If you don’t have $175 in your account, the fee could (albeit temporarily) trigger an overdraft fee and prevent you from using your debit card until the ban is lifted. This can take a few hours or even a full day. “While the gas station sets the pre-authorization amount, the card issuer determines how long your account is kept,” AARP said.
So yes – as always, it’s no surprise that the poor are the most offended by this. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any options.
Debit transaction blocks that require a PIN are cleared faster if you can’t use a credit card or cash. Of course, this won’t help you buy any amount of gas if you don’t have $175 in your account, but it will allow you to use your full balance again as soon as you’re done paying. However, in my experience, it’s often not obvious whether a payment terminal requires a PIN – in which case, it’s better to pay at the store.
Whatever you have to do to get through this, good luck. When gasoline prices rise sharply, as they have been this year, the consequences go far beyond what’s on the screen.