Consumers Find Themselves ‘Held Up’ At Gas Pump


"Holds" are catching people – and their wallets -- off guard.

The pre-authorization holds are most often used by hotels, restaurants and gas station when you swipe your debit or credit card and the company doesn’t know at the moment what the total charge will be.

Instead, the company places a “hold” fee on some of your money, and it can be costly.

Andrea Evilsizer recently stopped to refuel at a Pilot station. She used her debit card as a credit card to buy $15 worth of gas.

“I travel back and forth from Cleveland to Columbus,” she said. “I woke up the next morning, looked at my bank statement and realized that the gas station and my bank had deducted my bank account $150 in holding fees. My reaction was, ‘I don’t’ have an extra $150 to pay for this.’”

Pilot says they're not the ones requiring the holds, it's the credit card companies Visa and MasterCard.  They require pre-authorizations for credit transactions like this because gas stations don't know much gas you'll actually pump in advance.  So Visa and MasterCard puts a hold on either $150 or $100, depending on your card, and merchants are supposed to notify you in advance.  However, stickers posted on the pumps at a Pilot in West Columbus don't explicitly say those amounts will be placed on hold. Instead they appear to suggest those amounts are the maximum YOU can put on your card per transaction.

The fine print does say that “individual banks determine the length of time an authorization amount is held.”

In Evilsizer’s case, the the $150 was released nearly 24-hours after she fueled up.

“You have to know the difference between using your debit card as a credit card versus a debit card and what fees will be assessed when you do,” she said.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office says Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act does not prohibit or address this practice, but they are looking into it.

10TV's Kurt Ludlow received the following statement:

"Paying for fuel at the pump with a payment card offers convenience, choice and security for all of us dealing with busy schedules.  MasterCard has developed a special system of guidelines and technology to help merchants, financial institutions and ultimately consumers participate in these payment situations without incurring additional risk or sacrificing convenience or choice. 

To protect all parties, this system sometimes can allow a temporary hold on funds in a consumer’s account until the transaction is fully processed.  Many banks that handle MasterCard transactions already release the hold on funds quickly.  MasterCard rules note that financial institutions should release the hold within two hours of the transaction – or in a very small number of situations, the next business cycle.  This applies to all MasterCard payment cards (credit, debit and prepaid) to ensure consumers are protected from lengthy holds on the funds in their accounts."

Seth Eisen
Senior Business Leader
U.S. Markets Communications