Debit transactions declined at the pump: Viewer asks why?

Debit transactions declined at the pump: Viewer asks why? »Play Video
NAMPA, Idaho – To save time most of us do it.

We pull up to the pump, swipe a debit card, fill up, and take off. But if the balance in your checking account is getting low, you could end up with a tank full of frustration.

“I went to get gas at Costco the other day and had $95 on my debit card and I went and swiped the card it wouldn't give me any gas and I was wondering why?” Bob O’Hara of Nampa said.

Gas stations have no idea how much gasoline you're going to buy so when you swipe your debit card, most stations send a pre-authorization request to your bank. It's typically $75 to $100. Costco's standard pre-authorization amount is $100, but even if you don't have that much money, most customers should still be able to get some gas.

“That pre-authorization request is for the lesser of $100 or the balance of your account. So in one case, if you have more than $100 in your account, it sends a pre-authorization for $100 and you can pump up to $100. Let’s say for example you only had $25 in your bank account, then that pre-authorization request would come back for $25 and you could pump $25 worth of gasoline,” Rue Jenkins of Costco said.

But that didn't happen in the O'Hara's case.

“It was pretty frustrating and I was almost out of gas so I was sweating it to the next gas station which luckily took the card,” O’Hara said.

The company says that's not a Costco issue. It’s likely tied to the customer's bank or card processing company it uses.

“Once in a while we'll find an instance where either the card issuing the financial institution or their processor does not handle the pre-authorization request. They're interpreting that message as authorization for $100 and don't return a partial authorization which would be an amount less than $100. In that case, if they're not supporting that partial pre-authorization, then the transaction is declined to the person purchasing the gasoline,” Jenkins said.

It all happens behind the scenes. Typically the hold on your account for the pre-authorized amount is cleared up in a matter of minutes, although it can take up to two hours. It's all unsettling for some customers.

“There's nothing at the bank that says this is a practice, there's nothing at the gas station that says they're going to charge you ‘X’ amount of dollars more than what you actually purchased,” Debbie O’Hara said.

“You know, most of the time it works seamlessly,” Jenkins said.

If you want to avoid any potential problems you can always prepay with your debit card inside or use cold hard cash.

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