'Block-holds' can cause you big headaches when you pay at the pump

'Block-holds' can cause you big headaches when you pay at the pump
Stock Photo Courtesy - Tejas Allied America

Update: Chevron has supplied KATU News with a written statement on its policies related to block-holds.

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. - When Mike and Roger Hunter left their McMinnville home recently to ride to Beaverton's Tanasbourne Mall, they decided to gas up first at a Chevron in McMinnville.

When they got back, they went to pick up a keg of beer at the local bar.

“She ran it (debit credit) and it first came back denied," Roger Hunter said. "It's like 'what’s going on here?' There should be a whole bunch of money in that thing.”

Roger and Mike checked their accounts.

Mike Hunter remembers, “It shows our checking account, our savings account and everything and he went 'OMG! We just got hacked!' You know, 'cause that's what it looked like."

“We were at like $400,” says Roger Hunter, “and I got back here and I sat back in this chair over here. It dropped to $23.”

Roger and Mike Hunter's account manager told them Chevron had put what's called a 'block-hold' on their debit card.

“They said 'oh, that's a fee they put on there,” Roger Hunter said. "They want to make sure they get their money. I said 'this has never happened before.' In fact, this last weekend we went and got $40 worth - no extra fee.”

If that hold is on a credit card it's usually no big deal because it goes away within a day.

But that one-day amount on your debit card can wreak havoc on your checking account.

And as gas prices rise, credit experts say, block-holds are more common.

“Right now we're seeing block-holds that, you know, tend to be in the neighborhood of $70 to $100 depending on the merchant,” says Bruce McClary of ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions. “But these block-holds might increase to $150, even $200. It just depends on how high gas prices go and what these merchants feel is reasonable.”

Braden Reddall, with Chevron’s policy, government and affairs department, sent KATU the following statement:

“When customers buy fuel at the pump, oil companies ask the customers’ banks for pre-authorizations. Chevron uses $126 to allow customers to fill up completely. After customers finish pumping, the transactions post immediately, and the banks should remove any holds they placed within seconds. The problem that the customers in KATU’s August 14 story had was the result of an error by their bank, not Chevron or the independent McMinville retailer, and Chevron encourages them and any others with this issue to contact their banks.”

Roger and Mike Hunter believe consumers at least deserve a warning.

“A little sign at the pump saying, you know, potential debit block or something," Mike Hunter

Experts say to avoid a gas station block-hold on your debit card, don't pay at the pump.

That's essentially an open account until the debit charge goes through, so the service station has to protect itself against the possibility of a large, uncovered charge.

Instead, pay the full, final total inside at the register. In those cases, there's no need for the service station to put a block-hold on the card because you've already paid the total bill.