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Is it possible to rent a car without a credit card?

Credit Cards And Car Rentals

The short answer is yes, but it’s not always that simple, and it varies by rental company and the type of non-credit card payment used (i.e. debit card, prepaid card, cash, gift card, or money order).

You can definitely pay for a rental transaction with any form of payment upon returning your vehicle.  What’s less straightforward is the type of payment you’re required to put on file before the rental company allows you to drive off the lot.  The reason for that is rental companies want to have some insurance that you’ll A) bring the car back; and B) be able to pay for any incidental charges that you incur.  As a result, they require a form of payment on which they can place a hold for the cost of the rental, plus $100 – $300 to cover incidentals.

Specific policies differ based on the rental company you use.  For your convenience, we have included below the details of the policies held by the four major rental companies in the US:

  • Alamo:  All Alamo locations allow you to rent cars using a credit card, and some allow cash rentals or rentals using a money order as payment, but you will be required to place a deposit of the rental charges, plus $300.  Debit cards (which includes prepaid cards, according to Alamo’s definition) are allowed if you can provide proof of a round-trip travel ticket at the time of rental.  For example, if you’re at the airport and want to rent a car with a debit card, Alamo will want some evidence that you’re departing from that same airport and won’t just skip town with their vehicle.
  • Avis:  Some Avis locations will accept both credit cards and debit cards at the time you rent a vehicle, while others only accept credit.  According to the Avis website, debit cards may not be used at locations in Canada or the “Metropolitan NY Tri-State area, Hartford, CT, Philadelphia area, Mississippi or Louisiana locations as well as other locations across the country.”  If you use a debit card when picking up your rental, Avis will perform a credit check at the time of rental and will place a hold on your account for the estimated cost of your rental, plus $100 – $200, depending on whether you pre-pay part of your booking or not.  Prepaid cards and gift cards can only be used to pay your bill when returning your rental vehicle.
  • Enterprise:  Online bookings require a credit card; local rental offices have their own policies and may allow customers to secure rentals with debit cards, prepaid cards, or even cash, but you have to contact them to find out.
  • Hertz:  Most Hertz locations allow you to reserve a rental car with either a credit card or a debit card.  You must simply have enough available credit or a big enough balance to cover the estimated rental cost, plus up to $200 in incidental charges.  Cash rentals are also allowed, but in order to use this payment method you must apply for a Cash Deposit ID Card, which takes about 30 days to get and necessitates paying a $15 processing fee.
  • National:  National allows customers to reserve rental cars with either a credit card or a debit card, although the latter can only be used when you present a round-trip travel ticket.  A hold will be placed on your respective account, equal to the sum of your estimated rental costs and certain incidentals, at the time of rental.  Any form of payment can be used to pay for the rental upon returning your vehicle.
  • Dollar Thrifty:  You can only rent a vehicle with either a credit card or a debit card.  Regardless of which you choose, Dollar Thrifty will put a hold on your account for the estimated rental charges, plus 15% or $250 (whichever is greater) to cover incidentals.  Bookings made with a debit card will require Dollar Thrifty running a credit check first.

The main takeaway from all of this is that a credit card is the only method of payment that will definitely allow you to rent a car.  Others, such as debit cards and prepaid cards, may be used to pay for a rental transaction upon the vehicle’s return, but there’s no guarantee they’ll allow you to drive off the lot in the first place.  You should therefore contact the particular rental car location you plan to visit before making any specific arrangements.

Finally, it’s important to note that if you want to enjoy the ubiquity of credit card acceptance among rental car companies but have damaged credit or are uneasy about getting into debt, you can apply for a secured card.  Secured credit cards work just like regular credit cards and are reported to the three major credit bureaus. What separates them from regular credit cards is that they require a security deposit – usually starting at around $200.  By placing a big enough security deposit to cover the cost of a rental, plus the added incidental charges that rental companies factor into the holds they place on customers cards, you’ll garner the ability to rent a car without a problem.  You won’t be at risk of overspending either since your security deposit serves as your credit line.
Image: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

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