Paying For Gas With Plastic Can Have Hidden Cost
Debit Cards Can Have 'Holds' Put On Them

When you fill up at the pump, paying with plastic could end up costing much more that the high price of gas.

Houstonian Doris Cook, who lives on a fixed income, found out the hard way.

"Some people like me, our family, live from payday to payday," she said.

So, when it's time to fill up, the current price of gas limits how much she can pump.

"I went and got $10 worth of gas. I know I had $10 in the bank," Cook said.

She put the $10 on her debit card.

But when Cook checked her balance online later that day, she got a surprise.

"I see this big red number, and I'm going, and I don't know if I can say this on TV, but, I said, 'Oh ****, no,'" Cook said.

In addition to the $10 she pumped, there was another charge for $55 from the same gas station. Cook immediately called her bank and was told the station had put a hold on her account.

"But $55? And she said they could go from $1 at that time to $85 to $95," Cook said.

And it could happen to you. With the rising cost of gasoline and the increasing number of drive offs, many companies are putting hold charges on customer accounts to make sure you have the funds to pay for your purchase.

"Based on the complaints we see, quite often people don't understand the difference between a credit card and a debit card," said Dan Parsons with the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Houston.

Parsons warned consumers not to use their debit card to pay at the pump.

He said bankcards are not subject to the same rules as credit cards, which fall under the Federal Trade Commission's truth and lending law. So, legally, merchants are allowed to issue blocks on them.

"You need to be aware of that because your entire balance could be upended," Parsons said. "It can hurt you financially."

In Cook's case, her account was overdrawn and she ended up with a charge from her bank.

Statewide, the average price of regular self-serve is $2.897 per gallon, 6.7 cents below the all-time record high of $2.964 set on Sept. 4, 2005, following Hurricane Katrina. It's 77.6 cents higher than last year's average.

In Houston, the average price of regular self-serve is $2.920 per gallon.