Debit Card

We frequently get asked whether debit cards are accepted for car reservations. The answer is “sometimes, but with a lot of conditions”. Our consistent take is that the most seamless method or renting a car is to possess a credit card when renting.

Some personal financial speakers suggest not having a credit card at all, even for rental cars. Dave Ramsey recommends never using a credit card, states that he always uses debit cards for car rentals without issues and that there’s never a need for a rental car company to run a credit check in order to rent a car. Yet he also recommends checking in advance with the preferred rental car provider or even using a ride-sharing service (like Uber) instead.

We believe in responsible credit card use. There's never a valid reason to pay a credit card company an interest payment. However, we also know that not all renters are like Dave Ramsey -- rich, nationally known, debt-free, and with the ability to leave a deposit of their estimated rental costs plus an amount of up to $500 more than their estimated rental costs.

What he misses are that there are valid reasons a rental car companies provides more scrutiny on rental car transactions made with debit cards. The rental car company policies are based on billions of past rental car transactions. We don't get many questions about renting a car with cash, yet a debit card represents cash (money directly from a checking account).

What Credit and Debit Cards Suggest about Consumers

An active credit card states that one or more banks have found the renter to be credit-worthy. A credit card usually includes some form of insurance (damage waiver) for rental cars -- it’s beneficial to read all that fine print! From the rental car company's perspective, a user with an active credit card is credit-worthy and likely has insurance coverage for any damage that happens to the rental car. The rental car company fully expects to be paid for the rental and understands that the credit card company is likely to cover any damage to the rental car.

The absence of a credit card suggests that the renter falls at one of two ends of a spectrum, whether fairly or unfairly. The renter is either:

  • Non-credit worthy with little ability to cover damage to the vehicle, or
  • An exceptionally responsible, well-insured person who meets all financial commitments without relying upon credit at all.

When a renter presents a debit card, the rental car companies just don’t know whether the customer is their best possible or worst possible consumer. And the company is making a decision on renting a vehicle that is likely worth $30,000 or more (plus potential liability) for a comparatively small amount of money.

Question: If a stranger walked up to you and asked to borrow your car for $25 in cash today, would you accept? Renters are largely strangers to rental car companies and a debit card represents cash in a bank account. 

We won’t say Dave Ramsey’s Wrong, But …

He doesn’t speak for the average consumer’s experience renting a car, and the policies of the rental car companies reiterate there’s a disconnect. There are a lot of rental car companies in the U.S., so we narrowed the field to those providing more than 97% of the domestic rental car market for our analysis: Advantage, AvisBudget Group (Avis, Budget, and Payless), Enterprise Holdings (Alamo, Enterprise, National), E-Z Rent-A-Car, Fox Rent A Car, Hertz Global Holdings (Dollar, Thrifty, Hertz), Rent-A-Wreck, SilverCar, and Sixt.

One thing these companies have in common? Potential pain and disappointment for the person walking to the counter holding a debit card. A customer with a debit card can expect to encounter requirements such as the following:

  • Bank-issued debit cards (not prepaid)
  • Security deposits
  • Credit checks
  • Multiple forms of ID / Proof of residence
  • Proof of Insurance
  • Proof of Pre-paid Travel
  • Franchisee opt-outs
  • Location-specific rules

Plus restrictions/prohibitions such as:

  • Additional age restrictions based upon payment method
  • Local driver restrictions
  • Major city prohibitions
  • Rural area prohibitions
  • Vehicle type restrictions
  • Additional driver restrictions

As a former rental car station manager on the AutoSlash team states, “Why on earth would you use a debit card to rent a car when a credit card eliminates all these frustrations?”

The Major Rental Car Companies (alphabetical):

The descriptions below are summaries of the policies of each of the major rental car firms. None of the 15 major rental car firms rents to debit card holders with the same ease as renting to credit card holders. That's right -- every major rental car company tells a debit card user that there are hoops to jump through. In addition, the rental car companies allow for location-specific policies that can be more extensive than the broader corporate policies. Each of the descriptions below is the minimum a debit card user can expect.

Advantage -- Debit cards must have Visa, MasterCard, or Discover logo. There is a security deposit up to $350, a likely credit check, and international travelers (even international residents of the U.S.) must have a return ticket to an international destination.

Alamo – Debit cards must have Visa, MasterCard, or Discover logo, Debit cards require documented proof of round-trip travel and a security deposit (amounts vary by location).

Avis -- Debit cards must have Visa or MasterCard logo and only for those renters 25+. Debit cards almost certainly result in a credit check, cannot be used for premium vehicles, are not accepted at many urban/rural locations. Locations add monetary holds at local discretion.

Budget – Locations may use national credit verification bureau and will require a third form of identification at the airport/off-airport. Franchisees are not required to accept debit cards.

Dollar – Debit cards must have Visa or MasterCard logo and only for those 25+ (off-airport). Debit cards almost certainly result in a credit check, are not accepted at many urban locations, and requires a second form of approved identification. Locations add monetary holds at their discretion (up to $350 or 15%).

Enterprise – (Airport) – Debit cards require documented proof of round-trip travel, security deposit amounts vary by location. (Non-Airport) – Debit cards may (or may not) be accepted (varies by location), deposit/security deposit amounts vary by location.

E-Z – Debit cards must have Visa, MasterCard, or Discover logo. There is a security deposit up to $350, a likely credit check, and international travelers (even international residents of the U.S.) must have a return ticket to an international destination.

Fox Rent A Car – Debit cards must have Visa, MasterCard, or Discover logo. Round-trip itinerary and/or credit check through Experian plus deposit based upon traveler type. Fox restricts car classes to Economy, Compact, Midsize, Standard, Full-size and Minivan. Fox will expressly allow the customer to use a credit card even if the credit check fails. Debit card users CANNOT add additional drivers.

Hertz – Debit cards must have Visa or MasterCard logo and only for those 25+ (off-airport). Debit cards almost certainly result in a credit check, are not accepted at many urban locations, and requires a second form of approved identification. Locations add monetary holds at their discretion (up to $350 or 15%).

National – Debit cards must have Visa, MasterCard, or Discover logo. Requires documented proof of round-trip travel, deposit amounts vary by location, vehicle types are limited and vary by location (for instance, no premium vehicles, minivans or SUVs at Washington-National Airport).

Payless – The company limits vehicle types (Economy, Compact, Intermediate, Standard, Full-size, Premium car, SUVs and Minivans only), adds a $350.00 security deposit, and may run a credit check. Will allow the customer to use a credit card even if the credit check fails.

Silvercar – Silvercar only rents 2017 Audi A4s. Renters are not allowed to drive the Audi A4 with a debit card (no exceptions).

Sixt – Debit card policy is based per location, is entirely discretionary but requires two different forms of ID. In-state renters can only rent up to an Intermediate Car. Out-of-state residents cannot rent premium, luxury, or extraordinary vehicles. Sixt can hold up to three times the expected rental cost as a deposit.

Rent A Wreck – Debit card must be linked to a checking account. The company verifies insurance is prepaid for at least 30 days beyond the rental, adds security deposit of $150, requires three forms of identification (driver’s license plus two others), return itinerary is required (based upon the state of license), yet policy still varies by location.

Thrifty – Debit cards must have Visa or MasterCard logo and only for those 25+ (off-airport). Debit cards almost certainly result in a credit check, are not accepted at many urban locations, and requires a second form of approved identification. Locations add monetary holds at their discretion (up to $350 or 15%).

Our Take

Obviously, AutoSlash can't change the policies of the rental car companies. We agree with some of their policies and disagree with other policies (or components of policies). Rental car companies are simply taking additional risks of being unpaid for rentals and damages when accepting debit cards in lieu of credit cards.

There are many potential downfalls of attempting to use a debit card (if the rental firm is willing to accept the debit card at all):

  • The rental car companies have complicated rules that may be more stringent at some locations (especially at franchises).
  • Funds for security deposits and holds might be tied up for an extended timeframe -- up to three weeks after the rental ends.
  • Debit cards don’t have the same consumer protections as credit cards for billing disputes.
  • If a renter wants the rental car damage protection provided with most credit cards, the debit card is not going to have it (even the debit cards with a Visa or MasterCard logo).
  • The rental car company has direct access to the checking account after a rental if there’s alleged damage.

We clearly don’t make recommendations on credit decisions of others; unlike many blogs, we don’t receive any funds for advertising credit cards. We simply know from thousands of experiences that:

  • Credit cards are accepted without any hassle.
  • Debit cards are frequently accepted but require additional documentation and steps.

A customer wanting to use a debit card should always read the precise “Rules” of the reservation. There are links provided when booking (regardless of service provider). And if there’s any doubt at all, call the rental car location at the number provided on the reservation and ask.

When does the AutoSlash team hear about debit cards most frequently? Usually, the renter's at the counter and is unable to rent after selecting a company with stringent debit card rules. The only option when a renter hasn't read and confirmed the rules? A last-minute switch to an alternative rental car company (if available), often at a much higher rate.

Additional Detail:

Links to the general policies of the major rental car firms are provided below; contact the rental car company's site for detail if there’s a need to use a debit card when renting your vehicle.

Quote me Track a reservation! Learn how you can save 30% or more on car rentals