HOUSTON - While gas prices seemed to have stabilized for now, a lot of consumers are still getting hit with a sizable charge that they may not be aware of when they use a credit or debit card.
When consumers swipe their card, the gas station is placing a big hold on your purchasing power until they get paid.
It's called a 'hold-charge.' Think of it like a security deposit that has grown from $125 to $175 for every transaction.
While in effect, that's purchasing power that's unavailable until the transaction is verified.
FOX 26 Reporter Damali Keith has experienced it first-hand, "I was pretty surprised."
She says, several months ago, she swiped her card at several pumps, trying to find one that worked, before finally buying $35 worth of gas.
"A couple days later, I noticed on my statement that there was almost $650 missing," she says, "I was, like, where's this money; what's going on?"
U.S. News and World Report credit card expert Beverly Harzog says the temporary hold can put a crimp in personal finances or cash flow.
She says the hold charges will reduce the amount of available credit or in the case of a debit card, reduce account balances until the transaction settles. It's designed to decrease risk for the merchant who wants to ensure getting paid.
"They want to be sure that your card is approved, of course, but they also don't know how much gas you're going to get. So, they put a hold on it to cover whatever they think the cost will be," says Harzog.
Hold charges are typically cleared in 24 to 48 hours. However, Keith had to wait almost two weeks, and says that would be an eternity for someone on a tight budget.
"That could really hurt a family if you absolutely needed that money that they're holding for so long."
Short of paying in cash, there are a couple of things to help minimize getting caught by a hold-charge. Start by paying attention to your credit limit or bank balance to be aware of how close you might be to a financial bind. You can also go inside the gas station and pre-pay for a set amount of fuel, that would avoid the necessity of a hold charge.