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Most rental car companies accept debit cards, survey finds

But expect to face extra restrictions, conditions

By Amy Buttell Crane

With credit card companies canceling accounts and slashing credit limits, using a credit card to rent a car this summer m­ay not be an option. While it isn't as easy to rent a car without a credit card as it is with one, it is possible, a survey conducted by reveals.

Just four of the 45 rental car agency locations contacted in the telephone survey said they refused, under any circumstances, to allow consumers to rent a car rentals with a debit card. The other 41 locations permitted customers to use a debit card to rent a car -- however, all but one of those locations required users to meet at least one extra qualification requirement in order to do so. For example, 24 locations require an additional deposit, and 10 mandate a credit check. (See summary of debit card policies at car rental agencies .)

The telephone survey included 45 locations from nine major rental car companies: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, E-Z Rent-A-Car, Hertz, National, Rent-A-Wreck and Thrifty. called five different locations at airport and nonairport locations throughout the country -- ranging from Los Angeles and Chicago to Erie, Pa. and Wayne, Mich. -- asking whether the use of debit cards was allowed and what restrictions were placed on that use if they were allowed at that location. Among the nine rental car companies surveyed, some were consistent in their policies, while others were all over the map. Because many rental car company outlets are operated by franchisees who have a certain amount of control over how they do business, debit card policies vary by location. (See (12 tips for renting a car with a debit card .)

This is the second consecutive year has surveyed a large sample of car rental agencies about their debit card policies. In 2008, all 45 locations surveyed indicated that they would accept debit cards. However, the shrinking number of locations that accept debit cards for car rental may or may not represent a trend, as different locations were surveyed each year.

Unlike credit cards, which require users to borrow money from credit card issuers to pay for purchases, debit cards draw funds from the user's own checking or savings account. Debit transactions are limited to how much cash is available in those accounts, which fluctuates during a given day as funds are spent and deposits made. In addition, financial institutions may impose daily limits on the amount of transactions processed with debit cards, in contrast to credit cards, which typically don't have daily limits, leading rental car companies to be more wary of debit cards than credit cards.

Answers vary; call around

The survey revealed that while outlets of most companies allow debit card rentals and payments, additional requirements to use a debit card may be needed. Typically, rental car companies want to see a debit card with either a Visa or MasterCard logo that is affiliated with a bank, savings and loan or credit union.

Additional requirements may include:

  • Hold of additional funds on your card (anywhere from $100 to $500) until the car is returned -- 24 locations required this
  • Credit checks -- 10 locations
  • Full-coverage car insurance -- 8 locations
  • Copy of return airline ticket or e-ticket itinerary -- 7 locations
  • Recent utility bill, such as a phone, gas, electric or cellphone -- 5 locations
  • Verification of employment or pay stub -- 4 locations
  • Address on driver's license or passport that matches that on the pay stub or utility bill -- 4 locations
  • Restrictions on taking the rental car out of state -- 1 location

Some rental car company outlets were happy to rent to local residents using a debit card, but refused to rent to out of state customers, while others allow debit card usage from out-of-state residents, but not locals. Many had age restrictions on top of debit card restrictions -- most typical was that the renter using a debit card had to be 25 years old or older. In addition, many rental car company offices place a hold for a larger deposit on a bigger car than a smaller car.

Category: Bank

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