David writes that he recently had a confusing experience at a gas station, and he wanted some clarification. He’s used to receiving a cash discount when he pays with his debit card at gas stations, but came across a gas station owner who wouldn’t give a cash discount for anything but actual greenbacks. Are this gas station’s policies illegal, David wonders?
In a little town in South Carolina,, there is an Exxon station that I don’t usually visit but seeing as how my sister left my car basically running on fumes when she returned it to me, I needed some gas.
I pulled up to the pump, selected pay with debit since I’ve always gotten the lower cash price by doing this, slide my Visa debit check card in, and a message appears that says, “Debit not available at this time.” I went into the store to ask if there was something wrong with the pump or if they’re computer was down, and things got… off on the wrong side of what I believe to be some legalities. The man behind the counter, and owner, first denied there was anything wrong with the pump or computers, told me to go outside slide my debit card in and select credit. I told him if I did that I wouldn’t get the cash price. He replied “That’s because you’re paying with plastic.” I answered back by stating that Debit is cash since it’s taken straight from my bank account, to which he replied, “the only cash is green cash.”
The gas station owner is correct. Swiping a card, credit or debit, will always cost merchants money, no matter what kind of account the money comes from on your end.
It’s the stations offering the cash discount for debit card transactions that are the anomaly here. While the fees differ, merchants do have to pay a percentage of your purchase to the company that processes their plastic payments–both credit and debit. While the fees may be lower for debit transactions, they still exist.
Here, for your edification, are some past Consumerist posts on the subject:
The Hidden Fee That Happens Every Time You Swipe Your Credit Card (start with this one)
Senate May Break “Price Fixing” On Credit Card Swipe Fees
Merchants Demand Credit Card Fee Relief
Retailers Ready To Rebel Against Credit Card Fees