Paying for a rental car with debit card: 9 Challenges

From Constance Sommer  |  Updated: August 11, 2017

Hoping to use a debit card to rent a car? It is usually
possible, but rarely straightforward. Rental car companies prefer that their clients use
a credit card.
As Thrifty Rental Car explains on its site: “Renting a car to
someone without a credit card is insecure for rental car companies. Not having a
credit card is a red flag that you might be a credit risk.”
Debit cards also present a conundrum for rental car
companies. What if the debit card tenant returns an empty tank, but there isn’t
enough cash left in the bank account to pay for it? Or the car comes back
dinged up, but the renter’s insurance policy doesn’t cover it and, once again,
the bank account has dipped too low?
But rental car companies want to keep clients happy and
borrowing vehicles. So it is often possible to rent a vehicle using a debit
card — only expect more hassles and more time at the rental car counter. What obstacles, if any, that you may face trying to rent a car with a debit card vary from company to company, and even location to location. Read on for a
list of nine obstacles you may encounter, and a breakdown of coverages by rental
car agencies.

1. You’ll need to
have available cash.You need to get money in the bank to rent with a debit card. Expect the
rental car company to lock up the entire rental amount beforehand, and put a
hold on your account for around $350. With any problems, the excess cash is going to
be released back to you in the end of the rental, but the process can take up
to three weeks.
2. You may face a
charge check.Many rental car companies will run an automatic credit check
on anyone hoping to rent a car using a debit card. If your score is too low,
the company might refuse to rent to you. Also, bear in mind that each and every time someone runs a check on your own credit, it can lower
your FICO score, from five points to much more, depending on the
state of your individual credit situation.
3. Carry extras forms
of identification.If you can provide a credit card also, that will remain
acceptable. Otherwise, in addition to a driver’s license, you may be required
to generate a second or even, if you’re handling Rent-a-Wreck, a third kind
of identification. An acceptable form of ID could be a passport, or a utility
bill with the same address as the one on your driver’s license.

4. You’re going to have to
buy or show evidence of insurance.Many rental car companies will request debit card users to
produce evidence of insurance. Expect this in particular to slow the process
down, because the rental car agent will then call the number on the coverage and make sure that you have
the level of coverage the rental car company needs to rent the car. Otherwise, the agent may insist that you
buy sufficient coverage from the rental car company, or decrease to rent you a car.
5. Show evidence of
recurrence travel.This varies widely from company to company, and even from
location to location. Enterprise, Alamo and National (which are all owned by
Enterprise Holdings) have fairly flexible policies for nonairport locations.
But if you would like to use a debit card to rent from them at, say, Los Angeles International Airport, you would want
to create a return travel ticket with your name on it. This could be an
airline, cruise or train ticket. The same is true for Budget’s Newark, New Jersey, airport location, though many other Budget locations don’t make this demand.
6. Expect vehicle
exclusions.Talk about feeling like a second-class citizen … In addition to the hoops a debit customer must
jump through, there might also be classes of cars you cannot rent. A Mercedes
sedan, a Chevy Suburban, a convertible by any automaker — these are all cars
that aren’t rentable with a debit card in many rental agencies or locations.
The main distinction here is size and/or luxury.
7. Age exclusions may
apply.Budget and Avis won’t permit anyone under 25 years old to
secure a rental car with a debit card. Too young? Too bad. Thrifty has the identical
coverage for off-airport locations. Other companies may need more evidence of
identification for the younger group.
8. You’ll pay up at
vehicle return.Generally speaking, rental car agencies are happy to take
your cash in whatever form you provide. Hertz and Thrifty will let you pay cash
upfront in case you really plan ahead by applying at least 30 days in advance for
one of their Money ID cards, and paying a $15 surcharge for the card.
9. Policies can change
by location.Check the debit card coverages in your rental car location. There are two ways to do this. The first
is to look up the policies on the internet, by clicking on the “locations” tab on the rental car site, locating the location where you plan to rent, and then clicking on the
faint, small print at the base, which will lead you to the details of that
location’s policy. That will provide you an overview. To be certain, however, that
you arrive properly ready to rent the car of your choice, it is best to call the
location itself and nail down every detail.
See related: Which cards are best for leasing a car, How to score a rental car using a rewards credit card

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