Yes, technically you can rent a car with a debit card. But rental car agencies will only accept debit cards under strict conditions (e.g., credit checks, deposits of $500+, etc.), so it’s always better to use a credit card.

Most merchants love debit cards. Heck, some will even give you a ~3% discount for using one instead of your credit card.

But not rental car agencies.

If you go to Hertz and plunk down a debit card, they’ll recoil and glare at you like you wore white to a wedding.

GIF of a man making a disgusted reaction

Source: Giphy.com

 

So, what’s up with that? Why do rental car agencies hate debit cards? Will they begrudgingly take them? And if so, under what conditions?

Why do rental car agencies hate debit cards?

You’d think a rental car agency would be happy to take debit cards. Wouldn’t they save 3% on merchant fees by accepting them?

Keep in mind that renting a car is a special kind of transaction. In fact, it’s more like a loan than a transaction, since you’re essentially paying a nominal amount to borrow $30,000 worth of property.

So there are a few perfectly logical reasons why Hertz et al prefer that you take out a “loan” with a credit card rather than transact with a debit card.

1. Debit cards limit how much money a rental agency can collect

If you read the fine print of a rental car contract, you’ll see that you’re not just paying for the rental car; you’re pre-authorizing the rental car agency to keep charging your credit card if you rack up more fees and fines.

  • Dirty car? That’s a $25 wash charge.
  • Empty tank? That’s a $50 fill-up charge.
  • Damage the car? That’s a $500 insurance deductible.

With debit cards, rental car agencies can’t just keep charging you. You have to be physically present with your debit card and approve the charges.

That’s why most agencies require a deposit — just like an apartment — to rent a car with a debit card. That way, the agency has a small pile of pre-authorized money to pull from if you mess up, just like your landlord would if you break a window.

2. Customers without credit cards are perceived as higher risk

The other reason rental car agencies dislike debit cards is because they make them suspicious. When someone plunks down a debit card, agencies wonder:

  • Why is this person giving up rewards points to pay with a debit card?
  • Do they not have a credit card?

This leads to more questions:

  • Why don’t they have a credit card?
  • Have they been rejected by all the banks for credit cards?
  • If the banks don’t trust this person, why should I?

In short, customers with debit cards are mysterious. And when your business model hinges on risk, certainty is good and mystery is bad.

So, given their disdain for debit cards, will agencies still let you use one?

Yes. But there’s a steep list of conditions, requirements, and overall strings attached. Let’s cover the most common ones.

Common requirements and conditions of renting with a debit card

1. Proof of a return ticket or itinerary

If you rent a car with a debit card from an airport location, you’ll always be asked to provide proof of a return ticket or itinerary.

That’s because every rental car agency’s biggest fear is that you’ll rent a car with a debit card, skip town, and they won’t be able to get their $30,000 investment back. They can’t just charge your debit card $30,000, because at some point your bank is going to shut them off.

That’s why they like to see some kind of proof that you’re coming back.

2. A hold/deposit for the total rental amount, plus $500

Like an apartment landlord, Hertz et al want a deposit to pull from if you cause damage to their property.

So, in addition to charging you upfront for the car (to ensure you have adequate funds), rental car companies will also require a refundable deposit typically between $200 and $500 — but sometimes as high as $900. So, for a $500 rental, the upfront bill could easily be $1,000+. And you may not get your deposit back until a month after you return the car.

For many travelers on a shoestring budget, having $1,000+ locked up for a month could be a dealbreaker.

3. No prepaid cards

Rental car agencies generally don’t accept prepaid Visas or the like, because there’s literally no way to overdraft them. The only exception is using a prepaid card at the end of your trip after the car is back in the agency’s possession.

4. Extra forms of ID

Many agencies will require two forms of ID to rent with a debit card, just to make extra sure you are who you say you are. Those might be a passport or other government-issued ID, a recent utility bill, and more.

5. Credit checks

Some rental car agencies will want to see your credit score to determine, in less technical terms, how trustworthy you are.

The agencies I spoke to all insisted that this is just a soft pull, meaning they’re just taking a quick peek and it won’t negatively impact your credit score like a hard pull/check.

Nobody would tell me what their minimum credit score was, but I think it’s safe to say that you’ll want it in the 600+ range if you plan to rent with a debit card.

Read more: How to get a free credit report and credit score

6. Presenting a credit card in your name

Believe it or not, some agencies actually require you to show that you have a credit card before paying with a debit card. Again, they like seeing proof that someone has trusted you with a line of credit.

But the only reason I can think of to use your debit card instead of your credit card is if the latter is frozen. So this requirement is almost a tongue-in-cheek way for the agency to whisper, “You know, you should really use your credit card.”

Where can I rent a car with a debit card?

Risk is subjective. As a result, two different rental agencies can have wildly different rulesets for renting with a debit card.

From the surprisingly lax to the totally draconian, let’s take a look at every major agency’s conditions for renting a car with a debit card.

Does Enterprise accept debit cards?

Enterprise will accept debit cards under the following conditions:

  • The card bears the Visa, Mastercard, or Discover logo.
  • You show proof of a return flight when renting from airport locations.
  • The address on your driver’s license matches your current home address.
  • You submit a deposit of between $200 and $850, depending on the value of the vehicle rented.

Enterprise also accepts prepaid gift cards, but only at the end of the rental. And the prepaid gift card must have the Visa, Mastercard, or Discover logo.

Check Enterprise’s forms of payment page for the latest information.

Does Budget accept debit cards?

Budget will accept debit cards under the following conditions:

  • You’re at least 25.
  • You submit a hold/deposit equivalent to the total estimated cost of the rental (min. $100).
  • You show proof of a return ticket when renting at airport locations.

Budget also clarifies that some locations accept debit cards and some don’t, so you’ll want to call ahead and check.

Check Budget’s debit card policy for the latest information.

Does Avis accept debit cards?

Avis’s page on debit card payments is a bit confusing, so I spoke to a few different agents to get the facts straight.

In short, yes, you can rent a car from Avis with a debit card. But the conditions are pretty strict:

  • The debit card must have the Visa or Mastercard logo (Discover debit cards are not accepted).
  • You must also provide a credit card in your name from one of the following companies, even if you don’t intend to use it for the rental: Avis, Avis Charge Card, American Express, AT&T Capital, China Union Pay, Diner’s Club International, Discover, JCB, Mastercard, or Visa.
  • Some locations require a soft pull of your credit, so you may need to unfreeze your credit with Experian if it’s frozen.
  • You must submit a hold/deposit of the total estimated cost of the rental, plus extra in some cases to cover possible charges (cleaning, extensions, etc.)
  • Only sedans and SUVs are available to rent with debit cards. No pickups or convertibles.
  • You provide proof of a return ticket when renting at airport locations.
  • Locations in Canada; the metropolitan New York Tri-State area; Hartford, CT; Philadelphia area; Mississippi; and Louisiana do not accept debit cards.

Perhaps more than any other agency on this list, Avis really begs the question: Is it even worth trying to pay for a rental car with a debit card? (something I’ll discuss at the end of the article.)

Does Hertz accept debit cards?

Hertz will accept a debit card under the following conditions:

  • The card bears the Visa, Mastercard, or Discover logo.
  • You provide two forms of government-issued ID.
  • You submit a hold/deposit of the total estimated cost of the rental, plus $500.
  • You provide proof of a return ticket when renting at airport locations.
  • You book at least 24 hours in advance at non-airport locations.
  • You can only rent from their Compact or Fullsize category. However, if you link your debit card to your Hertz Gold Plus account, you can use it to rent from all categories.

Check Hertz’s page on accepted forms of payment for the latest info.

Does Alamo accept debit cards?

Alamo accepts debit cards under the following (relatively lax) conditions:

  • The card has the Visa, Mastercard, or Discover logo.
  • You have proof of a return ticket when renting from airport locations.
  • The name on your license matches your current home address.
  • You submit a hold/deposit of the total estimated cost of the rental.

Check Alamo’s page on renting with a debit card for the latest info.

Does Dollar Car Rental accept debit cards?

Dollar will accept a debit card under the following conditions:

  • The card bears the Visa, Mastercard, or Discover logo.
  • You submit a hold/deposit covering the total estimated cost of the rental, plus $500.
  • You undergo a soft credit check at the time of reservation.
  • When renting from airport locations, you must provide proof of a return ticket *and* a second form of government-issued ID, a recent bill, or a credit card in your name.
  • The permitted rental category is Compact or Fullsize only. However, if you link your debit card to your Dollar Express profile, you can use it to rent from all categories.

Check Dollar’s updated debit card policy for the latest info.

Does Sixt accept debit cards?

“Most” Sixt locations will accept debit cards under the following conditions. Note that the in-state vs. out-of-state qualifications are different (and a bit confusing):

  • You provide proof of a return ticket when renting from airport locations.
  • You must submit two valid forms of ID.
  • In-state renters must present an original and current utility bill (no copies) less than 30 days old, with the name matching your driver’s license.
  • Out-of-state renters cannot rent in the premium, luxury, or specialty categories, with the exception of vans and pickups.
  • You cannot use a debit card to rent a Sixt vehicle from an airport.

Check Sixt’s payment methods page for the latest info. And again, their debit card policy is by far the most convoluted, so I’d strongly recommend calling the specific location you’ll be renting from to get a more tailored response based on your situation.

Does Turo accept debit cards?

Turo (aka the Airbnb for cars) accepts debit cards with no strings attached. In part that’s because Turo charges you for your entire trip upfront, so there’s no need to place a “hold” for the estimated total (since it’s immediately withdrawn).

Turo’s odd lack of a deposit requirement may become a headache for hosts, but for renters, it’s a debit card paradise. So if you have no choice but to pay with debit, Turo may be your best bet.

Should you rent a car with a debit card?

You shouldn’t rent a car with a debit card unless it’s your one and only option.

In addition to jumping through all the hoops listed above (particularly that hefty $500+ deposit), renting with a debit card also means forfeiting all those juicy credit card rewards points. Some of today’s top rewards cards will let you earn 2% to 3% back on rental cars, and oftentimes you can score an additional 15% discount on your rental through card partnerships (found in your online banking dashboard).

Tips for renting a car with a debit card

If you have no other choice but to rent a car with your debit card, you can ensure the process goes smoothly by following these steps:

Call ahead

Debit card requirements vary by geographic location, so be sure to call the specific agency branch you’re renting from (e.g., Hertz at Atlanta International Airport) to get the full story.

Have funds ready

The agency may place a huge hold on funds in your account ($1,000+ to cover the rental + deposit) so be sure you’re ready to have those funds locked down for up to one month after you return the car.

Read the fine print

Agencies may tell you one thing over the phone and have something entirely different written into the contract. So always be sure to read the fine print before signing and putting your bank account in jeopardy.

Can you rent a car with cash?

No, you can’t pay for a rental car with cash.

Some agencies let you cover post-trip fees with cash (washes, fill-ups, extensions, etc.), but only after the car is back in their possession.

Summary

Renting a car with your debit card is possible, but it’s also a pain. If you don’t yet have a credit card by age 25, you’re much better off getting a starter credit-building card and using that instead of your debit card.

If you absolutely must use a debit card — e.g., you lost your credit card, you don’t have time to get a replacement/new card, etc. — just be sure to read the agency’s fine print, have funds available in your account, and carefully jump through each hoop to prevent overdrafts and such.

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About the author

Total Articles: 198
Chris helps people under 30 prosper - both financially and emotionally. In addition to publishing personal finance advice, Chris speaks on the topics of positive psychology and leadership. For speaking inquiries, check out his CAMPUSPEAK page, connect with him on Instagram, or watch his TEDx talk.