Deciphering Debit Cards at the Pump

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    NEWSLETTERS

    You know the price you're getting when you choose to pay cash or credit at the gas pumps, but what about when you swipe your debit card? The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters explain how to make sure you get the most for your money when you fill up.

    It's a new kind of sticker shock. These days, the pumps are plastered with countless policies and promotions, but the only thing most people really care about is the price.

    Since 2008, gas station owners in Connecticut have been allowed to charge different prices for cash and credit, both of which have to be prominently displayed.

    Larry Ancker, who has owned stations in Norwalk and Westport for decades, says the reason for the price differential is simple.

    "I charge 10 cents more for credit than for cash, just passing on the cost of doing business," said Ancker.

    Connecticut law prohibits retailers from imposing a credit card surcharge, but most gas station owners call the their difference a "cash discount."

    What's less clear to many customers is the price when you use a debit card.

    Gerry Katz has owned this New Haven Shell station for 37 years and says more than a third of his customers use debit cards for gas.

    "Debit means cash. That's what the mindset of the consumer is," said Katz.

    David Uhl of New Haven agrees.

    "That what I'm thinking, because I can keep track of it easier than with a credit card and have a sense of how much I have and how much I'm spending," said Uhl.

    But debit card users like Uhl are paying different prices depending on the station.

    GASDA, Connecticut's trade association for gas station owners, estimates that a credit card purchase costs the operator about $1.50 on a typical 15 gallon fill up, while a debit transaction costs only about 15 cents.

    Every station owner has the right to choose whether to charge debit customers either the cash price or the credit price. The vast majority are taking the more lucrative road.

    "Ninety-fiver percent of the guys out there are charging credit, if they're using debit cards, they're charging the credit price," said Larry Ancker.

    A new state law mandates every dealer in Connecticut has a sticker on the pump if they're charging the credit price when you use a debit card.

    Gerry Katz gives debit customers the price break and says it's paid off in spades.

    "The consumer who comes back knowing I give the cash price comes in the store and buys a lottery ticket or a candy bar or pack of cigarettes, so it's a win-win situation," said Katz.

    The trade association also points out that while the cash price in Connecticut is typically 8-10 cents lower than the credit price, the difference in many other states is 20-25 cents per gallon.

    The problem is that if you're using a debit card for gas out of state, you may struggle to find a station that will give you the cash price.