If you want to rent a car and pay for it with your debit card, make sure you do your research: Policies are unpredictable and subject to change.

There’s tremendous confusion when it comes to using debit cards for car rentals. And there are very good reasons why: First off, car rental companies’ debit card policies change unexpectedly—going from quite liberal to quite restrictive and back again.

The second factor is even more confusing: Even if a car rental company does accept debit cards, acceptance will vary according to location. And not only do company policies vary by state, individual locations may even have their own debit card policies. So just because using your debit card for a rental went smoothly at one Enterprise location, for example, isn’t a guarantee it will work at another.

To try to reduce some of the confusion, we’re providing a listing of the seven most popular car rental companies in the US, and their general policies in regard to debit card acceptance. Unfortunately, don’t take this article as an authoritative guide. You must check with the individual car rental company location to determine exactly what their policy is in regard to accepting debit cards.

With that in mind, here are the general debit card policies of the largest car-rental companies…

Hertz

There is no definitive answer to the debit card question when it comes to Hertz. In fact, the first thing they tell you is that acceptance of debit cards “depends on the region and location.” (I can tell you from personal experience that Hertz Northern New England is currently not accepting debit cards—though they did a few months ago.)

  • Debit cards issued under a VISA or MasterCard logo which draw funds directly from the cardholder’s account may be used to qualify for rental.
    (NOTE: This is a major positive! Most car rental companies will only allow debit cards for final payment, but not for qualification; you have to qualify with a credit card, even though you’ll ultimately be paying for the rental with your debit card.)
  • Debit cards are not accepted at the outset of a rental to qualify for non-Hertz Gold Plus Rewards member rentals in the New York metropolitan tri-state area and the areas of Hartford, CT, Philadelphia, PA, Boston, MA, and Detroit, MI.
  • Debit cards are not accepted to qualify for non-Hertz Gold Plus Rewards member rentals and non-Insurance Replacement Rentals to customers under 25 years of age at Hertz Off-Airport locations not in the areas noted above.
  • Prepaid or stored value cards which have a VISA or MasterCard logo are not accepted to qualify for rental.
  • When a debit card is accepted as form of payment, at the start of the rental, two (2) forms of identification are required.
  • Debit cards must have available funds for the estimated amount of the rental charges and any additional charges that may be incurred.
  • Both debit cards and prepaid or stored value cards issued under a VISA or MasterCard logo may be used as a form of payment when you return the vehicle.
  • A credit scoring process is performed through Equifax, which is very similar to the type of credit checks done when a person applies for credit; the credit check is done at the rental location when you arrive.
  • At the time of rental, an authorized hold will be placed on your credit/debit card to cover the estimated rental charges and any additional charges that may be incurred. These funds will not be available for your use. (In my experience, this is usually the cost of the rental, including insurance and options, plus a security deposit of $200.)
  • If you use a debit card you will need to present a valid driver’s license and show a second form of identification, like an additional credit card or employee photo ID.

Enterprise

Enterprise has different debit card acceptance policies for airport and non-airport locations.

Airport locations

  • Debit cards will be accepted with proof of a round-trip travel ticket (airline, cruise, ship, or train) at time of rental.
  • At the time of rental, a debit card (in the renter’s name) with funds available is required. In addition to the anticipated cost of the rental, an additional security deposit may be charged. To find out the cost of the security deposit, you will need to contact the location directly.
  • The signature on the back must match the name on the card and the signature on the rental agreement.
  • At the end of the rental, if you are entitled to a refund, the location will release the funds immediately. Due to bank processing times, this could be delayed a couple days, but typically customers have their refund within 15 business days.

Non-airport locations

  • Some Enterprise Rent-A-Car locations may accept debit cards, prepaid cards, or other forms of payment to secure a rental transaction. To reserve a vehicle without a major credit card, contact the local office directly.
  • At the time of rental, a debit card must be presented with available funds, in the renter’s name. In addition to the anticipated cost of the rental, an additional security deposit may be required. To find out the cost of the security deposit, you will need to contact the location directly.
  • The signature on the back must match the name on the card and the signature on the rental agreement.
  • At the end of the rental, if you are entitled to a refund, the location will release the funds immediately. Due to bank processing times, this could be delayed a couple days, but typically customers have their refund within 15 business days.

Alamo

Alamo has perhaps the simplest—but maybe also the most restrictive—debit card acceptance policy. While owned by Enterprise, its debit card acceptance policy is very different.

  • Debit/check cards are considered to be any non-credit card bearing the VISA, MasterCard, or Discover Card logo. Any other non-credit card without one of these logos is not accepted.
  • Debit/check cards are accepted along with proof of a confirmed round-trip travel ticket (airline, cruise, ship, or train). Without proof of a round-trip ticket, debit or check cards are only accepted as a form of payment at time of return. (Translation: You’ll have to establish the rental using a credit card, but you can pay the bill at the end using a debit card.)

Avis

  • Most US locations accept bank debit cards with the Visa or MasterCard logo as credit identification at the time of rental IF you are at least 25 years of age.
  • In most cases, US locations will perform a credit check for debit card renters to determine credit worthiness at the time of rental. The renter must meet Avis’s minimum criteria in order to rent.
  • Currently, at all US and Canada locations, debit cards are not acceptable as credit identification at the time of rental for all makes and models identified in the Avis Signature Series and for certain other premium vehicles.
  • Debit cards are also not acceptable as credit identification at the time of rental at locations in the New York tri-state area; Hartford, CT; Philadelphia, PA; Mississippi or Louisiana locations; as well as other locations across the country. Canada locations do not accept bank debit cards as a form of credit identification. Debit cards are acceptable for payment at the completion of your rental.
  • Some Avis locations do not accept debit cards as a form of payment.
  • Upon paying your rental with a debit card, Avis will generally request an authorization hold against your account for the estimated charges of the rental but reserves the right in its sole discretion to request extra value based on certain factors as they deem appropriate. Some exceptions may apply. THESE FUNDS WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE FOR YOUR USE. When the rental is over they will process the reversal but the bank may take time to post it back to the account.

National

Like Alamo, National is also owned by Enterprise. Its debit card acceptance policy is very different from Enterprise but, not surprisingly, identical to Alamo’s.

  • Debit/check cards are considered to be any non-credit card bearing the VISA, MasterCard, or Discover Card logo. Any other non-credit card without the VISA, MasterCard, or Discover Card logo is not accepted.
  • Debit/check cards are accepted along with proof of a confirmed round-trip travel ticket (airline, cruise, ship, or train). Without proof of a round-trip ticket, debit or check cards are only accepted as a form of payment at time of return. (Just as is the case with Alamo, you’ll have to establish the rental using a credit card, but you can pay the bill at the end using a debit card.)

Dollar/Thrifty

Dollar and Thrifty are one company, and they are owned by Hertz. So if reading this section feels like deja vu, you’ll know why. Dollar/Thrifty does accept debit cards, but there are a number of restrictions, and they are not accepted at all locations..

  • Debit cards issued under a VISA or MasterCard logo which draw funds directly from a cardholder’s linked bank account may be used at the outset of a rental to qualify for the rental.
  • Debit cards are not accepted at the outset of a rental to qualify for non-Thrifty Blue Chip member rentals in the New York tri-state area;Hartford, CT; Philadelphia, PA; Boston, MA; and Detroit, MI.
  • Debit cards are not accepted to qualify for non-Thrifty Blue Chip member rentals to customers under 25 years of age at Thrifty off-airport locations.
  • Debit cards may not be accepted at the outset of a rental to qualify for the rental at some or all locations in Canada. In addition, prepaid or stored value cards are not accepted at the outset of a rental to qualify for rentals at any location.
  • At locations where debit cards are accepted to qualify for a rental, in most cases, the location will perform a credit check for debit card customers to determine credit worthiness at the time of rental. The customer must meet the minimum criteria to rent using a debit card.
  • The acceptance of debit cards is contingent upon the debit cards having available funds to cover the estimated charges plus an authorization of up to $350 or 15% of the estimated rental charges, depending on rental location and card used. These funds will not be available for the renter’s use.
  • When a debit card is accepted as form of payment, at the start of the rental, two forms of identification must be presented. One must be either a valid US or foreign country issued driver’s license, plus one of the following: an additional credit card or debit card, valid US or foreign passport or US military ID card, or non-government form of ID (photo store member card (Costco, Sam’s, etc.), a photo employee card, or a current month utility statement. All IDs must be in the renter’s name and the same address as on the driver’s license.
  • Both debit cards and prepaid or stored value cards may be used as a form of payment when a customer returns the vehicle.

Budget

Budget and Avis are actually part of the same company, but they have different debit card acceptance policies. And Budget has different policies for company-owned locations and licensee-owned locations. You must check with the specific location to see whether they accept debit cards, and under what terms.

But here are the general terms:

  • If you are renting at an airport location, you will need three forms of identification, including your debit card, a valid driver’s license, and one of the following: 1) a round-trip airline ticket, e-ticket, or travel itinerary to or from the airport of rental, disclosing a return date and showing the renter’s name; 2) a valid US passport or current US military identification card; 3) a current vehicle insurance card; 4) a current copy (within the last 60 days) of your cell phone bill, home telephone bill, bank statement, or utility bill.
  • If you are renting at a non-airport location, you will also need three forms of identification, including your debit card, a valid driver’s license, and one of the following: 1) a valid US passport or current US military identification card; 2) a current vehicle insurance card; 3) a current copy (within the last 60 days) of your cellular phone bill, home telephone bill, bank statement, or utility bill.
  • Renters ages 21 to 24 must present a valid, acceptable credit card (debit cards are not permitted) and a valid driver’s license (subject to screening of your driving record), both in the renter’s name.

Summary

So there you have the debit card acceptance policies of the seven major car rental companies in the US. Just remember that these are only general guidelines, and actual debit card acceptance is determined at each location.

Because of the complexity in regard to debit card acceptance, you should do your research well in advance of renting a car. In that way you’ll be certain of what the policy is at the specific car rental location. Failing that, it will be necessary to have a major credit card ready just in case your debit card isn’t accepted. And there are some amazing ones available right now – from cash back cards to every day rewards.

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About the author

Total Articles: 153
Since 2009, Kevin Mercadante has been sharing his journey from a washed-up mortgage loan officer emerging from the Financial Meltdown as a contract/self-employed “slash worker” – accountant/blogger/freelance web content writer – on Out of Your Rut.com. He offers career strategies, from dealing with under-employment to transitioning into self-employment, and provides “Alt-retirement strategies” for the vast majority who won’t retire to the beach as millionaires. He also frequently discusses the big-picture trends that are putting the squeeze on the bottom 90%, offering work-arounds and expense cutting tips to help readers carve out more money to save in their budgets – a.k.a., breaking the “savings barrier” and transitioning from debtor to saver. He’s a regular contributor/staff writer for as many as a dozen financial blogs and websites, including Money Under 30, Investor Junkie and The Dough Roller.