Yes, you can typically use a debit card, a prepaid card or even cash to rent a car. However, each rental company has its own rules about acceptable payment options – which often vary by location – and not paying by credit card often carries certain ramifications.
For more on which particular payment methods you can use with each rental company as well as a breakdown of their policies and potential pitfalls you may encounter, continue reading below.
Payment Options by Rental Company
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 10 largest rental companies in the U.S.:
|Rental Company||Accepts Credit Cards?||Accepts Debit Cards?||Accepts Prepaid Cards?||Accepts Cash?||Accepts Personal Checks?||Accepts Money Orders?|
|YES||YES||Return Only||Return Only||NO||NO|
|YES||YES*||YES||Return Only||Return Only||NO|
|YES||YES||Return Only||YES||Corporate Locations||YES|
|YES||YES||Return Only||Return Only||NO||NO|
*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.”
Key Factors to Consider
- Expect to Place a Security Deposit: The reason a credit card is the preferred method of reserving a rental car, and cash is not sufficient, is that the rental companies require a form of payment on which they can place a hold for the cost of the rental, plus $100 - $300 to cover incidentals. They do this in order to protect the company in case a customer absconds with or damages one of their rental cars.With that being said, each rental company has its own rules in terms of acceptable payment options, and not paying by credit card often requires a security deposit of some form as well.
- Debit Holds are More Restrictive: A hold on your credit card generally is less worrisome than a hold on your debit card unless you’re near your credit limit. That’s because a hold on your debit card is placed on your actual money, not just a portion of your credit line that you may never use. Still, you’ll have less disposable funds until you’ve settled your bill or the hold has been released either way.
- No Credit, Limited Car Choices: Paying with a debit card can limit your car choices. Because renting a car to a customer without a credit card can be risky for the company, they might not allow such customers to rent pricier cars.
- Credit Check for the Credit-less: Many car rental companies make it a policy to check the credit of customers who do not pay by credit card, as this enables them to evaluate the trustworthiness of customers who may have less readily available collateral to put down.
- Longer Hold: If you reserve a car with your credit card but settle the final bill with a different card or other form of payment, the hold will remain on the initial card you used for up to 15 days because the card issuer won’t know the transaction has been finalized. Always try to pay with the same card.
- You Can Switch Payment Methods at Checkout: Rental companies accept far more different types of payment at checkout after you’ve returned your vehicle than they do at the time of your rental. That means you can put down a credit card as collateral when you rent your vehicle and then use a debit or prepaid card, for example, to pay later on. The one thing to note is that this might result in the hold remaining on your credit card for up to 15 days if the rental agent forgets to remove it from the original form of payment.
How to Rent a Car With Bad Credit
Given the importance of credit cards to the car rental process – they’re the only form of payment rental company are guaranteed to accept, no questions asked – it’s fair to wonder how people who do not have a credit card due to bad credit get along. Or, what if your credit limit is too low to cover the rental company’s hold, again as a result of your bad credit?
You could, of course, scour rental company policies and figure out an alternative form of payment. But the best course of action is to 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.
The best part is that secured cards put the power in your hands. They offer effectively guaranteed approval and enable you to control your credit line based on the size of your deposit, so all you have to do is decide to apply and how much to put down. Plus, you won’t be at risk of overspending with this type of card.
For more information about secured credit cards, check out WalletHub’s Secured Card Guide.
Detailed Policies By Rental Company
As you might expect from car rental companies, there are a variety of caveats and exceptions that impact the policies enumerated in the payment method acceptance table above. So, in the interest of providing you with the complete story and helping you avoid any unnecessary surprises, we have included detailed information about each company’s policies below.
This data is as complete as we could make it, although certain issuers were not forthcoming about their policies and there was, in many cases, inadequate information available online.
Accepted at Rental: YESYES (no Amex)NONONONOAccepted at Rental: YESYES, with round-trip travel (airline, cruise or train) ticket (no Amex)NOYES (policy varies by location and renter subject to cash qualification process*; must also pay with cash upon return)NONOAccepted at Rental: YESYes, at Certain Locations (Visa/MC)YES, w/ Online Prepayment (not accepted for hold at rental site)NONONOAccepted at Rental: YESYES, at Airport Locations w/ Round-Trip TicketYES, at Certain LocationsYES (policy varies by location and renter subject to cash qualification process*)NOYES (policy varies by location and renter subject to cash qualification process*)
|Info||Credit Cards||Accepts Debit Cards?||Accepts Prepaid Cards?||Accepts Cash?||Accepts Personal Checks?||Accepts Money Orders?|
|Accepted at Rental:||YES||Varies by Location||NO||Varies by Location||NO||NO|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||Varies by Location||NO||Varies by Location||NO||NO|
|Hold:||Varies by Location||Varies by Location||N/A||Varies by Location||N/A||N/A|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||YES (no Amex)||YES||YES||NO||NO|
|Hold:||Rental Estimate + $200||Rental Estimate + $350||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||YES (no Amex)||NO||YES (policy varies by location and renter subject to cash qualification process*)||NO||NO|
|Hold:||Varies by Location||Varies by Location||N/A||Rental Estimate + up to $500||N/A||N/A|
|Credit Check:||N/A||Only at certain neighborhood locations.||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Additional Info:||Not required at rental in NY but renter subject to cash qualification process* w/o credit card. Required for specialty vehicles at certain locations.||N/A||N/A||May limit vehicle selection.||N/A||N/A|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||Yes, at Certain Locations (Visa/MC)||YES||YES||YES||NO|
|Hold:||Greater of Rental Estimate or $200||Rental Estimate + $200||Varies By Location||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||YES, at Certain Locations||YES||YES, at Certain Locations||NO||YES, at Certain Locations|
|Hold:||Greater of Rental Estimate or $200||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Rental Estimate + $100 - $300||N/A||Rental Estimate + $100 - $300|
|Credit Check:||N/A||Only at Certain Neighborhood Locations||Varies By Location||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Additional Info:||Virtual/Single-Use Cards Not Accepted||Can Reserve Online, But Credit Card Must be Provided at Pick-up.||Can Reserve Online, But Credit Card Must be Provided at Pick-up.||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Accepted at Rental:||YES||YES, at Certain Locations (No Amex)||NO||YES (must be an international traveler and renter subject to cash qualification process*)||NO||NO|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||YES, at Certain Locations (No Amex)||YES (Visa/MC)||YES||NO||NO|
|Hold:||Varies By Location (typically rental estimate + additional amount)||Rental Estimate + $150 (varies by location)||N/A||Rental Estimate + $250||N/A||N/A|
|Additional Info:||“Key Ring” Cards Not Accepted||Not Accepted for Specialty Vehicles||Can Reserve Online, But Credit Card Must be Provided at Pick-up.||Not Accepted in Phoenix or Oakland. Not Accepted for Specialty Vehicles.||N/A||N/A|
|Accepted at Rental:||YES||YES (Visa/MC)||NO||YES (must complete cash rental application and reserve 4-6 weeks in advance).||NO||YES, in CT Only|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||YES (Visa/MC)||YES (Visa/MC)||YES, at Corporate Locations (policy varies at all other locations)||YES, at Corporate Locations (policy varies at all other locations)||YES, at Corporate Locations (policy varies at all other locations)|
|Hold:||Rental Estimate + Up To $200||Rental Estimate + Up To $200||N/A||Greater of $200 ($500 in CT) or 150% of Rental Estimate (if approved for cash rental)||N/A||In CT, Greater of $500 in CT or 150% of Rental Estimate|
|Credit Check:||N/A||YES||N/A||YES (rental reimbursement customers only)||N/A||N/A|
|Additional Info:||N/A||Not Accepted for Dream Cars||N/A||Auto Insurance Claimants w/ "Rental Reimbursement" Coverage, Hertz Vendors & Employees of Companies w/ Special Permission May Also Rent w/ Cash.
Renters in Connecticut are Subject to Background Check.
|N/A||Renters in Connecticut are Subject to Background Check.|
|Accepted at Rental:||YES||YES, w/ Round-Trip Airline Ticket (no Amex)||NO||YES, at Certain Locations (renter subject to cash qualification process*)||NO||YES, at Certain Locations (renter subject to cash qualification process*)|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||YES (no Amex)||YES (no Discover)||YES, at Certain Locations||NO||YES, at Certain Locations|
|Hold:||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Info||Rental Estimate + Up To $500||N/A||Rental Estimate + Up To $500|
|Credit Check:||N/A||YES, at Certain Neighborhood Locations||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Additional Info:||NY Renters Subject to Cash Qualification Process* w/o Credit Card.
Virtual/Single-use Cards Not Accepted.
|N/A||N/A||May Limit Vehicle Selection||N/A||May Limit Vehicle Selection|
|Accepted at Rental:||YES||YES, at Certain Locations (Visa/MC)||NO||NO||NO||NO|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||YES, at Certain Locations (Visa/MC)||YES, at Most Locations||YES, at Most Locations||NO||NO|
|Hold:||Rental Estimate + 15% or $150 - $500, at Most Locations||Rental Estimate + 15% or $150 - $500, at Most Locations||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Additional Info:||“Key Ring” Cards Not Accepted||May Limit Vehicle Selection||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Accepted at Rental:||YES||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||NO|
|Accepted at Return:||YES||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||NO|
|Hold:||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||N/A|
|Credit Check:||N/A||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||Varies By Location||N/A|
|Additional Info:||N/A||Varies By Location||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
*Cash Qualification Process: Customers who wish to rent with cash (or other non-credit card/debit card payment method) must meet certain requirements that vary widely by car rental company and location. Requirements may include presenting a valid driver's license, a valid return travel (airline, cruise, train) ticket, multiple forms of identification (a valid passport if an international traveler), verifiable proof of employment, a paycheck stub, utility bill(s) in renter's name and verifiable contact information for the renter. In addition, the renter may be required to undergo a credit check, provide personal references and pay a security deposit.