Paying for gas at the pump can sometimes be a bit confusing, especially when using a credit or debit card. With pre-authorizations and holds, it’s easy to accidentally overpay. But what actually happens when you overpay for gas? Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect.
Why do gas stations pre-authorize more than the gas cost?
When you insert your card at the gas pump, the station will usually pre-authorize your card for $1 initially. This is to ensure the card is valid. Then, they will place a hold on your account for a certain dollar amount as an authorization before you begin pumping gas. This amount varies by station but is usually between $75-$150.
The reason for authorizing more than the cost of the gas is to account for the maximum amount you could potentially pump. Since the final charge is not known until fueling is complete, stations pre-authorize for more as a guarantee that funds will be available to cover the final purchase.
What happens when you overpay at the pump?
If you end up pumping less gas than the pre-authorized amount, the extra funds are not immediately released. The pre-authorization hold remains in place, typically for 1-3 business days. This allows time for the transaction to fully process through the system.
During this processing period, the pre-authorized amount is “tied up” and unavailable for other purchases. However, it has not been finally charged to your account yet. Once the station reconciles the transaction, any amount above the final gas total will be released.
Example of overpaying at the pump
Let’s look at an example to understand this better:
- You pre-pay $40 for gas at the pump
- The station pre-authorizes your card for $100 as a hold
- You only pump $40 worth of gas
- $100 remains blocked on your account initially
- Within 1-3 days, the $60 excess is released back to your available balance
- Only the $40 is finally charged for the gas
So while it may look like the extra $60 is gone from your account, it is just being temporarily held and will reappear shortly.
Why the pre-authorization hold remains in place
You may wonder why the pre-authorization hold isn’t released as soon as you finish fueling. There are a couple reasons it remains in place temporarily:
- It takes time for the transaction to fully process through networks between the gas station, merchant processor, and your bank.
- Stations want to account for any additional pending charges like if you purchased items inside the station shop.
- To allow time in case the card is declined after initial approval.
By keeping the hold for a few days, it ensures there are enough funds reserved in case of any adjustments needed down the line.
What to do if the excess amount is not released
In most cases, any overpayment at the pump will be released back to your account automatically within a few business days. However, occasionally it may not get refunded, especially if something went wrong with processing.
If the excess pre-authorization remains on your card longer than 3 business days, you should contact your bank. They can look into why it hasn’t been released and request the hold be removed sooner.
You can also follow up with the gas station manager. They may need to cancel the pre-authorization in their system to fully clear the hold. Be sure to keep your receipt showing the actual amount pumped as proof of overpayment.
Ways to avoid overpaying for gas
While pre-paying at the pump is convenient, it can sometimes lead to headaches like when you overpay. Here are a few tips to avoid pre-authorization issues:
- Pay inside with the cashier – This lets you know the exact amount being charged upfront.
- Use cash – Paying with physical money means no holds involved.
- Check your balance – Keep an eye on your account to ensure any excess drops off within a few days.
- Get a receipt – This provides proof of the amount you actually pumped in case issues arise.
The bottom line on overpaying for gas
Pre-paying for gas with a credit or debit card can be tricky. While an overpayment may temporarily look like a charge against your funds, it is just a hold that will expire. In most cases, any amount above what you actually pumped will automatically be released back to your account within 1-3 business days.
However, if the excess amount remains held longer, follow up with your bank and the gas station. With the right documentation, you can get the pre-authorization cancelled and any overpayment refunded.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the gas station keep the money if you overpay?
No, the gas station does not get to keep the overpayment. Even though the extra amount is initially pre-authorized, it is released back to your account once the transaction settles. The station only charges you for the actual amount of gas pumped.
How long does a gas station pre-authorization hold last?
The pre-authorization hold typically lasts between 1-3 business days. This allows time for the transaction details to fully process through the system. Once finalized, any amount above what you pumped will be released.
Can I use the excess amount while it is held?
No, the pre-authorized amount will be temporarily unavailable on your account during the hold period. Even though the extra funds haven’t been finally charged, they are “on reserve” and cannot be spent on other transactions.
Does the pre-authorization affect my account balance?
The account balance shown during the hold period may make it appear as if those funds are gone from your available balance. However, the pre-authorization hold itself does not charge or deduct money from your account. The held amount just remains inaccessible temporarily.
What if several days pass and the excess is still held?
If it has been longer than 3 business days and the pre-authorization remains, contact your bank. Provide details of the transaction and ask them to release the hold. You can also follow up with the gas station manager to get it cancelled on their end.
Can I dispute the pre-authorization hold with my bank?
If the pre-authorization remains on your account for an unusually long time, you can dispute the pending hold. Contact your bank and provide any receipts showing the actual amount you paid for gas. The bank should then be able to remove the excess hold.
- Gas stations pre-authorize more than the gas cost to ensure funds are available.
- The extra amount is held, not charged, until the transaction settles.
- Excess funds are released back to your account within 1-3 business days.
- Overpayment holds temporarily make those funds unavailable for other purchases.
- If not released after several days, follow up with your bank and the gas station.