Investigating the Issues That Affect You Most

Why Gas Stations Hold Your Cash Hostage

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    NEWSLETTERS

    An "authorized hold" is placed on a consumer's bank account when the final purchase price of a transaction is unknown. It can be inconvenient, but there is a way for consumers to avoid it. (Published Friday, Apr 29, 2011)

    As if the price of gas these days isn't bad enough, there is now an after-effect biting some consumers hours after they leave the gas station.

    "I got whacked by a credit hold," quipped Mike Grana of Ingleside.

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    Before his trip to a Shell gas station in McHenry the day before, Grana said he'd never heard of the practice known as an "authorized hold."

    A hold is placed on a consumer's bank account when the final purchase price of a transaction is unknown. In the case of holds at gas stations, a debit card is "authorized" for a purchase up to a certain amount. That amount -- usually $100 -- is then frozen until the final price of the purchase is known.

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    In Grana's case, his purchase was $30, but the bank froze $80. He said the hold cost him a welding job the next day because he wasn't able to buy the materials needed for the work.

    "I lost $250 that morning. It was a good paying job," he said. "I don't need anybody else bringing my account to zero.  I've got the hang of that!"

    Authorized holds on debit and credit accounts are nothing new, but the amounts being held are.

    Gas stations in the Chicago area were routinely asking banks to hold $100 of a customer's money until a purchase is cleared, NBC Chicago found.  That clearance can take up to three days.

    Also uncovered:  major confusion and finger-pointing over the question of who triggers the hold.

    There is a way to avoid the hold, but consumers seem to be mostly unaware of it:  go inside the gas station and pay the clerk.  Swiping a card and entering a PIN number avoids the hold.  The bank will clear the purchase for only the amount pumped within minutes.

     

    Target 5: Investigating the Issues That Affect You Most