Credit, debit card users could face short-term spending limits when buying gas

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.

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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." 

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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?"

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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. 

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"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.

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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."

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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.