Paying for Gas With Debit Card vs. Credit Card: An Overview

Which should you use for everyday purchases, a debit card or a credit card? It might not seem like there’s a lot of difference between those two options, but a closer examination reveals a number of advantages to using a credit card, especially at the gas pump.

Not only does using credit provide a greater sense of security from possible fraud, but most credit card companies offer cardholders some sort of reward for using their cards for gas.

Key Takeaways

  • Debit cards offer immediate payment without interest charges, but leave you as the spender under considerably more risk than a credit card.
  • A credit card offers additional protection at the pump because the funds are not immediately withdrawn from your account.
  • Using a debit card for gas is risky, as credit thieves favor gas stations and might be able to access your account with your PIN.
  • Credit cards offer specific rewards for spenders who use their cards for gas.

Using a Debit Card at Gas Stations

Using a debit card to pay for gas might immediately seem like the better option since you are avoiding interest fees associated with credit cards. Also, you are not able to overspend using a debit card.

However, accessing money instantaneously has drawbacks as well. The bigger issue with debit cards is your balance. If thieves steal using your debit card information, your money is gone until you go through the process of getting it restored.

Using a Credit Card at Gas Stations

Most (but not all) credit card companies offer their cardholders more protection against identity theft than is available to debit cardholders. This alone is a strong vote in favor of using your credit card at the gas pump. Additionally, identity theft protection isn’t the only benefit. Some credit cards offer rewards in the form of airline miles, hotel points, or cash back incentives.

No matter what the reward, the key is that you're gaining something in exchange for using a credit card.

In addition, there's the advantage of having a grace period with a credit card. When you make a purchase using a debit card, that amount is taken out of your checking account immediately. However, when you use a credit card to make your purchase, you usually will have a couple of weeks until the balance is due. This can be very helpful for managing cash flow in your personal finances.

Top Credit Cards for Purchasing Gas

In addition to the standard rewards you can earn by using a credit card at the pump, a few cards in particular offer bonus points on gas purchases.

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express: If getting cash back is your thing, you might want to consider the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card. You will receive 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and there's no limit on how much you can earn. Getting approved for the card will get you a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 within the first three months. This card also has a $95 annual fee.

Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card: Another option for cash back is the Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card. You will receive 3% cash back on purchases at gas stations and 2% at grocery stores for the first $2,500 of purchases each quarter. After that, everything comes with a 1% reward. The signup bonus for this card is a $200 online cash rewards bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Another plus: no annual fee.

Citi Premier Card: If you're a frequent traveler and earning travel rewards is essential, you might consider using the Citi Premier Card for gas purchases. In addition to earning 60,000 Citi ThankYou points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of usage, you can earn three Citi ThankYou points for every dollar you spend on any travel purchase, which includes not only gas but airfare, car rentals, hotels, and more. This card has a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived for the first year.

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card: The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature Card offers a very lucrative reward for users—five points for every $1 spent on gas. The only drawback is that you don't get a signup bonus with the card. There's another benefit, however: the card's $0 annual fee.

The key is to use your credit card like a debit card and only charge what you can pay at the end of the month without paying interest. You don’t want to pay an extra 20% in interest to put gas in your car. For people who have problems controlling their spending, debit card purchases are the clear choice.

Special Considerations: Protection

Think about the many stories you've heard about data breaches and consumer fraud. Then consider that gas stations are on the frontline of this trend. The gas pump is one of the easiest places for fraudulent activity to occur against anyone using a card.

Debit and credit cards both have consumer protections leaving you liability-free for most transactions. However, you get a little less protection with a debit card if you don’t notice the fraudulent charges within two days. You could be on the hook for as much as $500 if you report the problem between three and 60 days after the transaction. Credit cards set your maximum liability at $50 and many advertise zero liability.