January 30, 2023

Luciano: At Kroger, nothing is ‘low low low’ about debit-card holds at gas pumps – News – Journal Star

Thanks to Flo Rida, a current Kroger commercial boasts prices that are “low low low low low low low low.”

But that’s not the case when it comes to the debit-card and credit-card holds at its gas pumps.

To be clear, we’re not talking about the price of gas. Some types of business, including some hotels and car rentals, put holds on your cards to make sure you pay your entire bill.

Gas stations do this all the time. When you pop in your card, a hold is put on your account, often for $50. Before you pump your gasoline, the account is checked to make sure there’s enough money to cover any likely amount. Your card isn’t actually charged the amount of the hold, just the amount of the gasoline sale. And the hold later goes away.

However, there are two possible downsides here:

• The hold doesn’t vanish immediately. So your funds can get tied up for a while, maybe as long as a day.

• Though many gas stations use a $50 hold, Kroger’s is a whopping $125. I learned that — surprise! — when the big Kroger hold led to my debit card getting unexpectedly and embarrassingly declined.

Days ago, I ran some shopping errands in the late afternoon, including a stop at the Kroger at the Sterling Bazaar. Afterward, I went to the Kroger filling station there for about $25 worth of fuel.

There is a sign on the pumps: “Notice to credit/debit card customers. Your financial institution may hold funds on your account for a period of time when using a debit or credit card.” But there’s no mention of any amount.

By that time of my shopping trip, my purchases (groceries, gasoline and whatnot) totaled about $235. I still had one stop to make: a $21.45 takeout order from Emily’s Tattoo Tamales in West Peoria. I had more than enough money in my account. Plus, though my daily debit-card limit is set at $350 (to limit damages should any fraud occur), I wasn’t anywhere near that sum.

So, at Emily’s, she handed me a sack of tamales and I handed her my debit card. Moments later, she gave me surprising news:

Card declined.

I remembered that sinking feeling, from budget-thin days when payday couldn’t come fast enough. Embarrassed, I asked her to run the card again. Nervously, I explained that I’d just made multiple purchases, pulling receipts out of my pocket as if to say, “Seriously, I’m not a deadbeat. Really.”

Still, the card kept getting declined. Luckily, I had enough cash to cover the purchase.

The clock hit 5 p.m., and my credit union shut down for the day. I’d have to spend the night wondering what horror — fraud? theft? overspending? — had befallen my account.

In the morning, the credit union let me know that my account was fine. The Kroger gas station had smacked my account with a $125 hold, pushing me close to my daily limit — and then unable to buy the tamales.

Now, aside from a little sleeplessness, this was no tragedy. However, had I been traveling or planning on a key purchase, things might’ve not been so benign.

I understand the concept of card holds. But why is Kroger’s so high? Maybe some truckers with big tanks stop there. But isn’t Kroger foremost a grocery store? How many shoppers buy anywhere close to $125 worth of gasoline?

In search of assistance, I contacted not one but two Kroger spokespersons, explaining my situation. But neither bothered to call back. That was surprising, as I usually enjoy good service at Kroger. But maybe that’s just a local thing and not at the corporate level.

In 2017, WCPO-TV in Cincinnati asked Kroger similar questions. Kroger blamed banks and credit unions for any lags in releasing a hold. Furthermore, Kroger blamed fluctuating gas prices that can rise anytime.

“We continuously evaluate pre-authorization amounts and will adjust when needed,” Kroger said at the time.

With gas prices relatively low these days, you’d think Kroger could lower the $125 hold — or, at least, state its startling amount on the pumps.

Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, has no inside info about Kroger. But he says no retailer wants a hold to linger.

“Stores don’t benefit from holds at all,” he says. “They don’t possess that money. And if you can’t use your money, you can’t spend it at their locations.”

Or at tamale shops.

Phil Luciano is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at pluciano@pjstar.com, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.

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