9 tips for renting a car with a debit card

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. What obstacles, if any, that you will 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 policies by rental car agencies.

Rental car company debit policies

Check out the common company policies before renting your next car:   

Advantage

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? Yes, 21-24, with proof of insurance (18 years old in New York)
Car class restrictions? Check local rental office
Proof of insurance required? Only if you are renting with a 65-mile radius of your home address.
Will a credit check be performed? Varies based on location
Other terms? A deposit in the amount of $200 plus the estimated total will be applied
Specific location exceptions? At some locations, you may have to provide proof of a return flight leaving from the state you are renting the vehicle in
Cash payment accepted? The primary renter’s name will be listed first and will provide the payment information, whether it is credit card, debit card or cash.
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? N/A
Will terms vary by location? Yes, see specific rental location policies for specifics.

Alamo

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? N/A
Car class restrictions? Check local rental office
Proof of insurance required? check local rental office
Will a credit check be performed? N/A
Other terms? Debit cards are accepted along with proof of a confirmed round trip travel ticket (airline, cruise ship or train). Debit cards are not allowed for Advance-Pay reservations.
Specific location exceptions? N/A
Cash payment accepted? Yes, at some locations. Deposit in the amount of the calculated rental charges plus an additional amount (up to $500) may be required
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? N/A
Will terms vary by location? Yes

Avis

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? No one under 25 is permitted to use a debit card
Car class restrictions? No Avis Signature or other premium vehicle rentals
Proof of insurance required? No
Will a credit check be performed? Yes
Other terms? Avis will generally hold the estimated charges of your rental, but also reserves the right to hold additional funds, if deemed necessary, until card is returned.
Specific location exceptions? Tristate area, Hartford, Philadelphia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and other unnamed locations across the country
Cash payment accepted? Cash or check permitted upon car return
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? Upon return only
Will terms vary by location? Yes, credit and debit cards used to pay online may not be acceptable at certain locations. Please check the terms and conditions on your reservation confirmation

Budget

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? No one under 25 is permitted to use a debit card
Car class restrictions? No premium, specialty or convertible vehicles
Proof of insurance required? No
Will a credit check be performed? Yes
Other terms? N/A
Specific location exceptions? In Newark, for example, you must have a return airline ticket to use debit card
Cash payment accepted? Cash or check permitted at return
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? Upon return only
Will terms vary by location? Yes

Dollar

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? At most off-airport locations, renters must be over 25 to rent with a debit card
Car class restrictions? No
Proof of insurance required? No
Will a credit check be performed? Yes
Other terms? None
Specific location exceptions? Debit card use is approved, the estimated charges of the rental plus an authorization of up to USD 350.00 or 15% of the estimated rental charges, depending on the rental location and card used, will be held until the rental is returned.
Cash payment accepted? Cash rentals permitted with special Cash Deposit ID card available via Dollar.com, which requires a 30-day processing window and comes with a $15 fee. Applicants must be 21 years of age or older (18 in Michigan and New York).
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? Upon return only
Will terms vary by location? Yes, see specific rental location policies for specifics.

Enterprise

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? N/A
Car class restrictions? Check local rental office
Proof of insurance required? Check local rental office
Will a credit check be performed? No
Other terms? At airport locations, renter must show return travel ticket (airline, train, cruise ship, etc.)
Specific location exceptions? N/A
Cash payment accepted? Only with the “Cash Qualification” process, which requires a deposit, most recent pay stub, two current utility bills, proof of insurance, and two personal references. Contact specific locations for more information.
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? N/A
Will terms vary by location? Yes, especially at non-airport locations

Hertz

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? No, must be under 25 to rent at off-airport locations
Car class restrictions? No premium cars
Proof of insurance required? No
Will a credit check be performed? Yes
Other terms? 2nd form of ID needed. Up to $350 of funds will be held, plus cost of rental, until car is returned
Specific location exceptions? Debit cards not accepted at airport locations in the New York Metropolitan Tri-State Area (NY, NJ, CT), areas of Hartford, CT, areas of Philadelphia, PA, areas of Boston, MA, areas of Manchester, NH, areas of Detroit, MI, Baltimore, MD and areas of Atlanta, GA
Cash payment accepted? Cash rentals permitted with special ID card that requires a 30-day processing window and a $15 surcharge. Applicants must be 21 years of age or older (18 in Michigan and New York)
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? Upon return only
Will terms vary by location? Yes

National

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? N/A
Car class restrictions? Check with local rental office. In Newark, for example, no luxury cars or large SUVs for debit card renters
Proof of insurance required? Check local rental office
Will a credit check be performed? No
Other terms? At airport locations, renter must show return travel ticket (airline, train, cruise ship, etc.)
Specific location exceptions? In Newark, for example, you must have a return airline ticket to use debit card
Cash payment accepted? Yes, at some off-airport locations
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? Upon returm only
Will terms vary by location? Yes, especially at non-airport locations

Payless

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? N/A
Car class restrictions? Debit cards are accepted when renting an economy, compact, intermediate, standard, full-size, premium car, SUVs and minivans only.
Proof of insurance required? No
Will a credit check be performed? Yes
Other terms? $200 of funds will be held, plus cost of rental, until car is returned
Specific location exceptions? At most airport locations, you must have return airline ticket to use debit card
Cash payment accepted? Cash or check permitted at return
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? Upon return only
Will terms vary by location? Yes

Rent-A-wreck

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? At most locations, renters must be over 25 to rent with a debit card
Car class restrictions? No
Proof of insurance required? Yes
Will a credit check be performed? No, but an insurance check will be performed, plus three forms of ID
Other terms? $150 of funds will be held, plus cost of rental, until car is returned
Specific location exceptions? N/A
Cash payment accepted? Many, but not all locations accept cash. Check with individual locations for specific policy.
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? Yes, but Rent-A-Wreck will perform an insurance verification check and ask for three forms of identification. If the insurance check clears, the estimated total cost of the rental plus an additional security deposit of $200 will be held until vehicle is returned. Not all vehicles can be rented with debit card.
Will terms vary by location? Yes

Thrifty

Accepts debit card at time of rental? Yes, conditionally
Age restrictions or exceptions? No, must be under 25 to rent off-airport locations
Car class restrictions? No
Proof of insurance required? No
Will a credit check be performed? Yes
Other terms? None
Specific location exceptions? Must show 2nd form of ID (utility bill, passport, other credit card, store club card with photo, photo employee ID). Additionally, Up to $350 of funds will be held, plus cost of rental, until car is returned
Cash payment accepted? Cash rentals permitted with special ID card that requires a 30-day processing window and a $15 surcharge. Applicants must be 21 years of age or older (18 in Michigan and New York)
Accepted debit card payment upon car return? Yes
Prepaid debit/credit cards accepted? Upon return only
Will terms vary by location? Yes

Tips for using a debit card to rent a car

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, the company 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 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 policy and make sure you have the level of coverage the rental car company requires to rent the car. If not, the agent may insist you purchase sufficient coverage from the rental car company, 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, Los Angeles International Airport, 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, New Jersey, 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 proof 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.

9. Policies may vary by location.
Check the debit card policies at your rental car location. There are two ways to do this. The first is to look up the policies online, by clicking on the “locations” tab on the rental car 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, it is best to call the location itself and nail down every detail.

See related: Which cards are best for renting a carHow to score a rental car using a rewards credit card


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Updated: 11-18-2017