rental cars

Renting a car with a debit card can be a tricky business.  You can do it, but if you don’t know some of the potential pitfalls you might just find yourself having to find alternative transportation when you get to your travel destination.

After watching just that happen to a family ahead of me in line at a rental car agency, I thought I should write a post and warn my fellow travelers.

On this particular trip I was traveling to Atlantic City.  This involved flying into Philadelphia and then driving about 70 miles into Atlantic City.  I wanted to use a debit card and not rack up any more charges on my credit card.  Knowing not all rental car agencies would accept debit cards for rental cars, I checked the company’s website before choosing the agency for the rental car on my travel package.  I booked the car and the airfare together though Cheap Tickets and was all set.  It noted I would have to present my debit card to the agency.

What the rental car agency’s website and Cheap Tickets didn’t tell me is that the rental car agency would add a $200 deposit to the charge when I picked up the car.  Apparently they didn’t tell that to the couple in line ahead of me either.

The couple was quite disturbed to learn their debit card kept declining the charge.  They knew they had enough money.  Then the rental car agency (Dollar) told them about the deposit.  They hadn’t factored that in. They had other cards and cash, but Dollar would only accept the transaction if ONE card would take the entire charge for the rental and deposit.  They would not accept cash.

I found myself sweating a bit too.  I hadn’t factored that in and was wondering if I had enough on my own card to cover the extra $200 plus the rest of the expenses I had to meet on the trip.  I did, but be aware that an unexpected deposit on your rental car could suck up funds you had planned to use for other travel necessities.

The point here is that if you are using a debit card when you travel, you usually won’t encounter any problems with hotels or flights.  But rental cars are a different story.  Your credit card is their insurance in case you should damage or attempt to steal the car.  Many rental car agencies won’t rent the car without a credit card, period.  Others will, but they will have conditions.

When renting a car with a debit card, be sure to check the website of the agency you plan to rent it through.  If it doesn’t clearly define the terms and charges when using a debit card, call the agency.  It may be a good idea to even call the actual location where you will be picking up the car.  Find out exactly what charges and deposits there will be if you are using a debit card.  Also, realize it will take a few days for that money to be returned to your debit card after you return the car.  So if you are traveling to more than one city, factor that in as well.

Dollar Rent a Car only asked for a deposit.  Other rental car agencies that will allow you to use a debit card are Hertz, Alamo and Avis but they can be more stringent.  For example, Hertz will run a credit check on you.  Others require a significant hold on the debit card to cover the cost of potential damages (greater than the $200 deposit mentioned above).

Some companies may require a bank account statement dated within the last month or a utility bill from the last month, with the address matching the address on the driver’s license. The company may also require a pay stub, proof of car insurance or restrict the you from taking the car out of state.

In other words, do your homework before you casually put the rental car into your travel package and assume all is good.  You don’t want to spend your vacation in paradise at the airport because you hadn’t brought the papers, etc. you need to get a rental car.

A final note.  If you find yourself having too many difficulties satisfying the requirements of the big rental car agencies, look for independent agencies in the city you are traveling to.  They are often more relaxed about it all, but again, know before you go.

Happy travels!