Research and Statistics

Most drivers swipe debit at the pump in lieu of rewards-earning credit cards

Study reveals baby boomers are the only group that favors credit when filling up


While credit cards seem an obvious choice for pay-at-the-pump convenience while also potentially earning rewards, more drivers are swiping a debit card for their fill-ups.

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On an average day last year, 34 million Americans filled their gas tanks, collectively spending close to $400 billion to keep their vehicles fueled in 2018. But while credit cards seem an obvious choice for pay-at-the-pump convenience while also potentially earning rewards, more drivers are swiping a debit card for their fill-ups.

The findings come from GasBuddy’s 2019 Consumer Sentiment on Gasoline Study, which found almost half of drivers report they buy gas three or four times each month (49 percent), while 31 percent fill up just once or twice. That leaves a full fifth of drivers (20 percent) who find themselves at a pump at least five times each month.

When it comes to paying for those fill-ups, 44 percent of gas consumers say they use a debit card, compared to 38 percent for credit cards and 14 percent who pay with cash.

The debit preference is strongest for Generation X drivers (age 35-54), among which about half (49 percent) use a debit card at the pump versus just 33 percent for credit cards. Among millennials (age 18-34), debit cards also predominate, but at a smaller margin over credit cards (44 percent debit versus 38 percent credit).

See related: How to spot and avoid gas pump and ATM skimmers

Baby boomers (age 55 and older) are the one generation of drivers analyzed in the study that strongly favor credit cards when buying gasoline, with 45 percent using a credit card versus 37 percent who pay with debit.

Among all generations, the usage of cash for gas purchases is pretty uniform, coming in between 13 and 15 percent.

“Not everyone qualifies for the types of credit cards that provide rewards on gas,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. “The fact that a majority of people are still paying with debit cards and cash is a sign there is a need for a payment option that addresses savings and convenience for the greater public.”

GasBuddy, which tracks fuel prices at over 150,000 gas stations nationwide and shares the information with consumers via its app and online, conducted its survey of over 1,000 drivers who mirror the general U.S. Census population in early January 2019. Results were released Feb. 12.

See Related: Debit vs Credit card: When to use each payment method

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