September 9, 2010 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Why do so many gas pumps reject my debit card?

I have a Visa debit card through my local credit union. It works just fine everywhere except gas pumps, which about half of the time I fill up will tell me "see attendant," and do so consistently after multiple swipes in a row.

My wife has the same kind of card, which is linked to the same checking account as mine. Her card has its own number and her name on it, but I assume most of the back-end stuff is processed the same way as with mine. Her card always works at gas pumps. If she's with me when my card is rejected, I'll borrow hers and the transaction goes through without a problem.

There's plenty of money available in the account, so it's not an insufficient funds error. The magnetic strip on my card doesn't appear distressed and it swipes fine everywhere else I use it. The only other thing I can think of is that gas pumps prompt me for a ZIP code after I swipe and before "see attendant" appears, but no other store I shop at does that. I do shop online; maybe some ecommerce sites make use of ZIP verification, I'm not sure. But it never happens with other physical vendors. When I moved a while back, I asked the credit union if I could change my ZIP code on file to match my new location, but the teller informed me that it was permanently set to my ZIP at the time of the card's activation. I've been using that one at the gas pumps, so it should work.

Also, when I've used the same gas station multiple times, I've noticed that certain pumps will always reject my card. I try to avoid those pumps for better odds.

A solution would be nice but I'm really just asking out of curiosity. It seems strange for my card to work everywhere but gas pumps. If it helps, I'm in New Mexico, USA.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis to Technology (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried the credit card bag swiping trick? Maybe those particular pumps are more sensitive to "anomalous fluctuations".
posted by Paragon at 2:54 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nah, I don't think it's a problem with the magnetic swipe, I think it's a problem with the billing info on the card. I'm in your exact situation.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:00 PM on September 9, 2010

I'd bet that it has to do with the ZIP code and the fact that you moved. Your card is probably failing the AVS check sometimes (or always), which is why it's rejected. Gas stations can choose to allow payment even if the AVS is wrong, which could be why it works sometimes.

That's strange advice from your teller; in my experience, I had to use my new ZIP code when I moved, despite using the same card. Have you tried using your new ZIP code at the pumps?

Also, have you tried requesting a new card with a different number? That would probably be the easiest way to resolve it, and banks will usually do this for free.
posted by helios at 3:00 PM on September 9, 2010

What is the zip code on your statements from the credit union? That is the zip code the gas station is verifying your entry against.
posted by IanMorr at 3:00 PM on September 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have the same problem! Occasionally!

I can't tell you how many times my friends have looked at me all sarcastically and said, "yeah, sure you put in the right zip code..." but then I pull out a credit card and swipe it and it works FINE or I pull up to the next pump and I'm all "SEE, IT'S NOT JUST ME!"

The first time it happened to me was a week after I had my car in Chicago (I had never had the problem back when I lived in Georgia), and some chick was staring at me and laughing and I was so embarrassed I actually got back in the car and drove away in shame (which is SO not like me) to another gas station down the block. Where there were no problems.

So, yeah, I have no idea why this happens, but there definitely seems to be something more going on than an oversensitive magnetic strip reader.
posted by phunniemee at 3:06 PM on September 9, 2010

There are a lot of freaky electronic checks in some instances against billing information. I couldn't get my student loans to show up in Mint until I updated my phone number. Zip codes are particularly problematic and of the order of stupid of some banks asking you to "choose an image" for your log in. It's fake security.

Make sure all your trivial records are up to date and see how it goes.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:31 PM on September 9, 2010

A few times last year I went to the Dollar General store in my area and it always came back with "decline" on my bank check card / Visa (swipe is fine, works elsewhere, plenty of funds). My guess is that some merchants have their equipment incorrectly configured or have a substandard credit card gateway.
posted by crapmatic at 3:34 PM on September 9, 2010

the teller informed me that it was permanently set to my ZIP at the time of the card's activation.

That's completely bizarre, and I can't believe it's true. Ask to speak to a manager at your credit union next time you're there.

I am frequently prompted for my "Billing ZIP" at gas stations, and it so happens that I use my PO Box (in a different county from my physical address) as my billing address for pretty much everything. If I mistakenly put in the ZIP code of my physical address, I get the "see attendant" error. I've moved a few times in the last several years, and when my billing address has changed, it has always applied to the card as well.
posted by Gator at 3:35 PM on September 9, 2010

Have you tried entering your new zipcode at the pump? I've moved a few times since setting up my bank account, and once my billing address changes, the zipcode I verify with changes along with it.
posted by mysterpigg at 3:46 PM on September 9, 2010

Does this only happen when you have to enter your ZIP at the pump? Are there any other times when it hasn't worked? All signs so far point to that being the problem.

Debit cards can be tricky with address information. When I updated the address on our bank account, it updated the address associated with my debit card but not my wife's card. We're in a similar situation: same account linked to both cards with each card having a different number and name on the front. I was able to have the issue resolved by a teller at my regional bank branch, but credit unions may not have as much direct access to the card data. Try again with a teller, but be prepared to ask if there is a company that services the cards for them that you could call directly.
posted by kyleg at 3:56 PM on September 9, 2010

Three hours after I changed my address with my credit union, gas pumps were rejecting unless I put my new ZIP in. It was cool, actually - I tried the new ZIP as a lark. This is what you need to try first. Assuming you've only lived in two places, that this started happening after the move, and that your bills have shown just two ZIP codes... yeah.

Oh - and my magnetic strips don't show wear until well after the point that they cause problems at (all) swiping locations. If the new ZIP code doesn't work, try getting a replacement card.
posted by SMPA at 4:22 PM on September 9, 2010

What zip code do you use when your wife's card works?

And it could be just a bad "spot" on the magstrip that allows most transactions to go through, but not some others. Have no idea.
posted by gjc at 4:35 PM on September 9, 2010

Response by poster: Good ideas, I just took the teller's word at face value. I'll try my new ZIP next time I fill up. My wife uses the new ZIP, but that was our ZIP when her card was activated.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 4:59 PM on September 9, 2010

I did this at a BP a few days ago and it rejected my debit card also. The pump said that it doesn't accept debit cards, only credit. I think it's because of stolen debit cards.
posted by anniecat at 5:00 PM on September 9, 2010

I have to agree that you need to speak to someone at the CU about getting the zip changed. If they're insistent that you can't, then get a new card from them with the right zip. You may also be able to ask specifically why the card is rejecting. Get a date/time/location/amount for them and ask them for the reject reason. I look this up for customers at my bank quite often. Then you'll know if it's an AVS error (address problem) or something else.

My banks system also has an annoying habit of sometimes doing an address change on the checking account, but not always following through with the address change on the card, so that can cause problems for some people too.
posted by saffry at 5:01 PM on September 9, 2010

And I think it might be the same reason why hotels or car rental companies don't accept debit cards anymore.
posted by anniecat at 5:01 PM on September 9, 2010

Same thing happens with my visa debit card. I solved the problem by only selecting "credit" (or answering "no" on displays that ask "is this a debit card?"). The transaction goes through without a hitch every time.
posted by prinado at 5:35 PM on September 9, 2010

The zipcode asked is the current billing/ statement address. I had trouble with company card at gas stations as I couldn't ever remember my San Francisco office zip code. Changed statement address to home and no more problems.
posted by zeikka at 6:02 PM on September 9, 2010

This happens frequently at my little small town gas station. The attendant always tells us "just run it as a credit card instead" (i.e. push the credit button, not the debit button) and it works every time.
posted by amyms at 6:39 PM on September 9, 2010

Have you tried using it as credit instead of debit? I always, always hit the 'credit' button at gas pumps, and come to think of it, I haven't had your problem (which I also used to have fairly frequently) since beginning to use it as credit. I've heard some stories about people's checking accts getting broken into after inputting pin numbers in gas station pumps -- I figure it's best to be on the safe side, and running it as credit is no different than running it as debit when it comes to what happens in your bank account.
posted by imalaowai at 7:13 PM on September 9, 2010

I had this exact same problem, starting in January of this year. My debit (usable as credit) card worked perfectly, everywhere except gas pumps. At first, it seemed like it was just certain stations and pumps, but then it evolved into my card working everywhere BUT gas pumps. Debit or credit, the card just wouldn't work for gas.

I felt like an idiot, because when I went to the bank, the card worked in the ATM, which, according to the teller, meant that it would work everywhere. He said it was probably just the particular pump I was used to using, but I told him that it happened at 3 different stations, at several different pumps at each station. He condescendingly agreed to issue me a new card, on the basis that it might be defective.

Coincidentally, around the same time, I decided to streamline my wallet. When I got my new card, it worked perfectly everywhere, and fit ever-so-nicely in my cute little slim card case. Which, unlike my old wallet, did NOT have a big magnet right over the middle of the section that held my debit card.

So, yeah- I figured out a bit late that my wallet clasp probably demagnetized enough of my card that it just wouldn't work in gas station pumps. My new card has never been stored in the former wallet, and has worked like a charm once every two weeks at whichever gas station and pump I choose.

Why only the gas station, though? My only theory is that the pumps have the "Insert and remove" reader, as opposed to the "Slide it all the way through" reader in stores- from my limited understanding of the way information is coded on a card, the gas station reader may not have been able to read enough of the strip to get all the info it needed.
posted by andeluria at 1:32 AM on September 10, 2010

If its not too much of a PITA, you could report your debit card "lost" and have your CU issue you a new one with your new Zip code. Kind of the nuclear option though.
posted by Fiat124 at 1:08 AM on September 16, 2010

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