Do I need a credit card to rent a car? Can I rent with a debit card or cash?

Last Updated: Aug 06, 2016 09:29PM EDT
Credit card policies vary widely between rental agencies.

If you don't have a major credit card in your own name, you'll want to carefully review the rental agency's policies when booking and perhaps even call the rental office for clarification.

Some agencies will allow you to rent if you have a debit card (any card linked to a checking account, as long as it has a Visa or MasterCard logo on it), but there are usually pretty significant restrictions with doing so, since rental companies view customers who only have a debit card as statistically riskier to rent to.

It depends on the company and location, but you might find some or all of the following restrictions, among others:
  • You may be subject to a credit check at the rental counter
  • You may be required to submit to a credit check in advance (call the rental office for details)
  • You may need to provide proof of travel, such as a return airline ticket
  • You may need to provide proof of residence, such as a utility bill
  • You may need to provide proof of income, such as pay stub
  • You may need to provide proof of insurance
  • You may be required to purchase additional insurance
  • You may be restricted from renting certain types or classes of cars
  • You may be restricted from taking the car outside of the state or have other geographical restrictions
  • Your debit card may be charged a significantly higher security deposit when you pick up your car
  • You may be required to make reservations and submit any requested documents to the rental company several days before you pick up the car

Here are a couple of articles on using debit cards with rental cars:

CreditCards.com
NerdWallet.com

Again, these policies vary significantly, so be sure to review the terms and conditions on your reservation when booking. We make it easy to view these when booking through AutoSlash--just look for the link to view "Rules & Information" when confirming your reservation.

Note that rental companies usually require that the person driving a car present a driver's license and a credit card in a matching name. It's not usually permitted for one person to rent the car and a second person to provide the credit card. In that case, the second person with the credit card will need to rent the car, and the first person will need to be added on as an additional driver.

One way around these restrictions is a little creative. If you don't have a credit card but you have a friend or family member who is willing to vouch for you, that person can call their bank and add you onto their account as an additional cardholder. You'll get a card with your name on it, and the rental company will gladly accept that for payment. Of course, that puts the primary cardholder at risk for any charges you make on their account, so they'll need to trust you implicitly.

Cash deposits are becoming increasingly rare, especially at the major chain agencies we book with. Even if your rental office accepts cash deposits, expect similar or even tighter restrictions if you must use a cash deposit.

One other thing to consider is that debit cards typically do not come with many of the protections available with credit cards. Most credit cards these days include some "CDW" coverage that may help to cover you for any damage to the rental car. As well, credit cards offer stronger consumer protections than debit cards when it comes to things like fraudulent usage and disputing charges. Although we never recommend going into debt and carrying a balance (always pay off your credit card in full every month!), we do recommend trying to use a credit card when renting a car. (Just remember, it needs to be in your name.) If need be, it's usually not difficult to obtain a secured card, even with a bad or nonexistent credit history--just make sure you get one with a high enough credit line to cover any extra security deposits held by the rental company. (We also recommend choosing Visa over MasterCard if possible, as low-end MasterCards don't always include CDW coverage.)
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