06 Jan Why am I charged the credit price for gas when I use a debit card?
Q. If I use a debit card to pay for gas, are they obligated to charge me the cash price? I filled up at two gas stations in the past couple of days, requested to fill up debit, and both times they charged me the credit price, which was 10 cents more than the cash price.
A. It’s a great question.
It has to do with the fees charged to merchants, and it’s not against the law.
Let’s dive in.
N.J.A.C. 18:19-2.7 says: “[a] retail dealer may sell similar fuels at different prices to cash and credit customers,” provided the retailer displays “[a] conspicuous sign . . . posting the price per gallon (or per gallon and per liter) reduction for cash purchases of fuels.”
“Retailers often do not distinguish between debit or credit card purchases due to similar transactional processing fees, and therefore charge the credit card price on all such transactions,” said a Consumer Affairs spokeswoman. “N.J.A.C. 18:19-2.7 does not prohibit that practice.”
About those fees: Debit cards are an easy way to make purchases as they typically withdraw the amount of a purchase directly from the linked bank account, said Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge.
Even though they may be lower than that of a credit card, there are fees associated with processing a debit card transaction, she said.
Debit card transactions can be processed in two ways, with either a PIN or as a signature debit.
PIN transactions, where you must enter your personal verification information, are processed through a debit network where fees are generally lower than for credit transactions, Mott said. When a signature is required, the transaction will process through a credit card network — most debit cards show an affiliated link such as VISA or Mastercard — where the vendor pays an interchange fee.
In order to recoup the fees, gas stations will frequently charge the credit price when a debit card is presented, she said.
Important to note, in early 2020, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security issued a warning to consumers regarding the use of debit cards at gas stations, Mott said.
“At that time, many gas stations lacked chip readers to process card transactions. The data that is stored on the magnetic strip is sent in an unencrypted form to the gas station’s network where there is the possibility it can be stolen or obtained through a card skimmer device,” she said.
Gas stations were given until October 2020 to update their card equipment and comply with the requirement to have chip readers, she said.
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This story was originally published on Jan. 6, 2021.
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