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9 tips for renting a car with a debit card

By Constance Sommer

Paying for a rental car with debit card: 9 obstacles
Paying for a rental car with debit card: 9 obstacles

Hoping to use a debit card to rent a car? It’s usually possible, but rarely easy. Rental car companies prefer that their customers use a credit card. As Thrifty Rental Car explains on its site: “Renting a car to someone with no credit card is risky for rental car companies. Not having a credit card is a red flag that you may be a credit risk.”

Debit cards also present a conundrum for rental car companies. What if the debit card renter 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 customers happy and borrowing vehicles. So it is often possible to rent a vehicle using a debit card – just expect more hassles and more time at the rental car counter. Exact details vary company to company, and even location to location. Read on for a list of nine obstacles you may encounter, and a breakdown of policies by rental car agencies.

1. You’ll need to have available cash.
You need to have money in the bank to rent with a debit card. Expect the rental car company to lock up the entire rental amount in advance, plus put a hold on your account for up to $350. Barring any issues, the extra money will be released back to you at the end of the rental, but the process can take up to three weeks.

2. You may face a credit 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, they may refuse to rent to you. Also keep in mind that every time someone runs a check on your credit, it can lower your FICO score, from five points to much more, depending on the state of your particular credit situation.

3. Carry extras forms of identification.
If you can offer a credit card as well, that will always be acceptable. Otherwise, in addition to a driver’s license, you may be required to produce a second or even, if you’re dealing with Rent-a-Wreck, a third form 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’ll have to buy or show proof of insurance.
Many rental car companies will ask debit card renters to produce evidence of insurance. Expect this in particular to slow the process down, because they will then call the number on the policy and make sure you have the level of coverage they require to rent the car. If not, they may insist you purchase sufficient coverage from them, or decline to rent you a car.

5. Show evidence of return 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 pretty flexible policies for nonairport locations. But if you want to use a debit card to rent from them at, say, LAX, you’d need to produce a return travel ticket with your name on it. This could be an airline, cruise or train ticket. The same holds true for Budget’s Newark airport location, though many other Budget locations do not 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 may also be classes of cars you cannot rent. A Mercedes sedan, a Chevy Suburban, a convertible by any automaker – these are all cars that are not rentable with a debit card at many rental agencies or locations. The main distinction here is size and/or luxury.

7. Age exclusions may apply.
Budget and Avis will not allow anyone under 25 years old to secure a rental car with a debit card. Too young? Too bad. Thrifty has the same policy for off-airport locations. Other companies may require more proofs of identification for the younger set.

8. You’ll pay up at vehicle return.
Generally speaking, rental car agencies are happy to take your money in whatever form you offer. Hertz and Thrifty will let you pay cash upfront if you really plan ahead by applying at least 30 days in advance for one of their Cash ID cards, and paying a $15 surcharge for the card. Some Rent-A-Wreck locations (like this one in North Carolina) also accept cash at the time of rental.

9. Policies may vary by location.
Check out your specific location in advance. There are two ways to do this. The first is to look it up online, by clicking on the “locations” tab on the company site, finding the location where you plan to rent, and then clicking on the faint, small print at the bottom, which will lead you to the details of that location’s policy. That will give you an overview. To be certain, however, that you arrive properly prepared to rent the car of your choice, best to call the location itself and nail down every detail.

See related: Which cards are best for renting a car, Renting a car? Know whether your card adds insurance, How to score a rental car using a rewards credit card

Published: May 4, 2016


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Updated: 09-27-2016


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