Why Won't Rental Car Companies Let Me Use My Debit Card?

We recently gave you a suggestion for how to find a rental car that doesn’t require a major credit card, but we didn’t explain why it is that many car rental companies require the credit card — and why they won’t take your debit card.

Since you’re borrowing a car that likely costs several thousand dollars and the rental company doesn’t know you from the next person, the credit card is a guarantee of sorts that they’ll be getting paid no matter when — or in what condition — you return the vehicle.

Meanwhile, a debit card doesn’t offer the company the same protections, as it’s limited to whatever cash is in the associated account. So if they do take your card, you might have to jump through some expensive hoops.

Over at the Detroit Free Press a reader wrote in to columnist Ellen Creager about his attempt to rent a car at Enterprise with just a debit card. He was initially told that only a major credit card was acceptable, but was ultimately able to use his debit card — if he paid a higher rate.

So why is that?

Some firms accept a debit card at pick-up — with a catch. They will put a “hold” (that is, freeze money in your checking account) for as much as $500 — money you’ll eventually be refunded, but not for 3-5 business days after you turn in the car. They also might do an immediate credit check on you.

According to Enterprise’s own FAQ, your local Enterprise can require any of the following in order to get around the major credit card requirement:
*Two current utility bills
*Most recent paycheck stub
*Driver’s license issued from the rental state
*A minimum deposit plus the entire cost of the rental which will be debited from the account at the time of pickup. (Deposit amount varies by location from $100 to $300 plus the actual cost of rental). Please contact the rental branch directly to find out the exact amount that will be required.
*Proof of insurance
*Personal references

The different rental companies each have their own policy. (For example, Budget requests a higher deposit from debit users, but will not accept a debit card from anyone under 24 years of age.) So before you make your reservation, double check with the rental company to confirm their policy for accepting debit cards.

Debit cards a problem at car-rental agencies [Detroit Free Press]