For months on end, U.S. drivers have been struggling in the wake of rising gas costs. Throw in general inflation, and a lot of people are racking up higher credit card tabs to cover their essential expenses.
But now, filling up your car could result in an even higher credit card charge – albeit a temporary one.
If you generally don’t come close to hitting your credit card limit, then a temporary hold – even a larger one – may not be a problem for you. But if you’ve been cutting it close lately, then you’ll definitely need to start paying attention after swiping your credit card at the pump.
Here’s what you need to know.
Don’t panic if you see a large credit card charge
When you use a credit card to fill up your car, gas stations are allowed to place a hold on your card for a certain amount. The Wall Street Journal reports that Visa and Mastercard recently raised that hold limit to $175. That means even if you only fill up $60 worth of gas, you may see a much larger charge on your card temporarily.
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The good news is that you ultimately won’t have to pay for more gas than you actually take from the pump. But the bad news is that the hold placed on your credit card for that larger amount could last several hours, or even several days. And that could prove problematic if you’re nearing your spending limit and your billing cycle isn’t over.
So, let’s say a gas station puts a temporary $175 hold on your credit card when your tab only came to $75. Let’s also say you have another couple of days left in your billing cycle and the $175 charge puts you at your spending limit. That means if you need to charge $125 worth of groceries that same day, you may not have the option. And so it’s important to pay attention to temporary holds for gas fill-ups – even if that money is eventually refunded to you.
Does it pay to fill up your gas tank with a credit card?
Using a credit card at the pump has its benefits. For one thing, many credit cards offer cash back for gas fill-ups. That’s a good way to offset higher gas costs.
But it’s also worth noting that some gas stations offer a big discount on cash fill-ups. So you’ll need to run the numbers to see if you come out ahead financially getting cash back on your credit card vs. paying a lower price per gallon from the start.
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Meanwhile, if you don’t like the idea of seeing a large hold placed on your credit card for a fill-up, you can always ask a gas station employee to pre-authorize a smaller transaction (meaning, place a smaller hold on your card). But if you’re in a hurry and need to fill up quickly, that’s a time-consuming step you may not want to take.
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