Workarounds for Credit Cards at US Gas Pumps

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UPDATED - September, 2013.

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During the past eight years while driving in the USA, we have identified and tested several "work-arounds" for Canadian Snowbirds who are unable to purchase gas with a Canadian credit card at U.S. gas pumps, due to a lack of a valid zip code.

Here are some to consider.


1. U.S. Bank Debit (or Check) Card - For three winters we have tested this approach and it works at all major brand gas stations no matter where you are in the USA. It is our first choice regarding whether you are visiting the USA for a few weeks or as a long time "snowbird" ... and it is free!

Very simply, stop at any branch of a major U.S. bank, use your gas money to open a no-service-fee electronic checking account, and walk out with a debit card and PIN number you can put into use immediately. Click here to go to more specific details of our personal experience.

During our Florida travels we have spoken to bank officers about the practicality of this approach for short term visitors or those just visiting once . . . none indicated this to be a problem - they want your business.


2. A Canadian Zip Code - A number of readers have contacted me to suggest entering "00000," "11111," "12345" or "99999" (depending upon gas brand). All claim that these work at their southern destinations.

When tested, we have found these to be regional or brand specific. There is no continuity in this solution and when you drive into a station away from your home base, you really do not know whether you are going to be able to actuate the pump or not with your card, using these phony numbers.

Canadian Master Card holders may have more luck. Recently, several folk who use MC have written to me to say that by extracting the numbers from their postal code and adding two zeros to the end to create a 5 digit number, seems to work with some consistency.

For example, my postal code is L5G  4N9. My created "zip code" would then be "54900." Try it it may work.

Visa card holders may also wish to try this.


3. Contact your Canadian bank branch before you leave - According to some of our readers, different banks may have different solutions. They all seem to be aware of the problem. For example, a Bank of Montreal Master Card customer said her bank was able to put her U.S. destination on her card record as a secondary address, thereby providing her with her destination zip code for gas pump validatrion. She used her card with no problem for the duration of her Florida trip.


4. Canadian Debit Card (for certain Canadian banks only) - Suitable for short term visitors to Florida - this works but may involves a Canadian bank transaction cost.

Most major U.S. gasoline vendors are partnered with NYCE - one of the leading ATM networks in the United States. Recently, several Canadian financial institutions became members of the NYCE network; their debit cards are now acceptable for initiating purchases at the pumps of these partnered gas vendors. Debit cards do not require a zip code for at-the-pump authorization; instead they require your 4-digit personal identification number (PIN) issued by your bank.

The Canadian financial institutions issuing debit cards acceptable on the NYCE network are: ATB Financial, Desjardins, National Bank of Canada, RBC Royal Bank, Scotiabank and TD Canada Trust. Additional institutions may be added from time to time. For an updated list, visit: http://www.nyce.net/consumers/canadian/canadian_banks/index.htm.

A list of U.S. gas companies partnered with NYCE include: 7-Eleven, Amoco, BP, Chevron, Citgo, Exxon, Gulf, Hess, Mobil, RaceTrac, Shell, Sunoco and Texaco. For a complete list of gas companies and other organizations accepting Canadian NYCE partnered debit cards, visit: http://www.nyce.net/consumers/canadian/canadianretailer/index.htm.

NYCE maintains a useful information website for Canadians at: http://www.nyce.net/consumers/canadian/index.htm

Look for the red and white "NYCE" symbol in the "Cards Accepted" panel on the gas pump.

NYCE does not charge for this service but in a recent test using a Scotiabank debit card in Florida, we noted that Scotiabank applied a C$1.50 service charge to our account for each transaction.

Further, all our Scotiabank debit card gas charges were applied to our C$ chequing account with the Bank's applicable U.S. exchange rate added, even though we maintain a Scotiabank U.S. chequing account. We were unable to arrange to have a Scotiabank U.S. debit card or have the charges directed to our Scotiabank US$ account.


5. Chipped Credit Cards with a PIN - The perfect international solution if it ever becomes available at U.S. gas pumps.

Chipped cards similar to those we have in Canada will not happen in the USA for many years to come. In a recent interview with a Bank of America official, we were told that the cost of replacing all the card readers at retail (including gas pump) locations across the nation, would be prohibitive. In fact, at present there is no committed timeframe in the U.S. banking industry for such a change.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Our experience opening, using and maintaining a U.S. bank check card account.

Our approach
Since debit cards (known as "check cards" in the USA) use a 4-digit Personal Identification number (PIN) rather than zip code at the pumps, we decided to open a U.S. checking account and transferring our "gas money" into it when we drove across the border. We decided to use the Bank of America since it has branches everywhere; it is also relatively safe as far as financial stability is concerned.

Before driving south to Florida on I-75, we visited a Bank of America branch and without an appointment opened an electronic checking account (more on this below) using our Canadian address. The only identification documents we needed were our passports and driving license. Like many major U.S. banks, the Bank of America computer system is set up to accept Canadian addresses - and yes, refreshingly it even accepts a Canadian postal code.

Half-an-hour later, we left the bank with a book of counter checks, our new Bank of America bank (debit) card and a 4 digit personal identification number (PIN) ... and it didn't cost a penny. The teller even tested it for us before we left and within 10 minutes, we were using it at a gas pump.

In the past two years, the card has worked at all gas pumps where we have swiped it, with no problems at all.

All the gas pumps we have used in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tenneessee, Georgia and Florida have accepted the card and PIN number, and actuated the pump with no problems. If prompted, we press the pump's "debit" card button and enter the PIN instead of a Zip code. Sometimes the pump will automatically identify our card as a debit card making this step unnecessary.

Now to the specifics
Visiting a U.S. bank may be a bit different to stopping at a Canadian bank. When you enter a Bank of America (BofA) branch without an appointment, you are either greeted and added to a Visitor list or you sign-in an appointment book (usually located on a floor stand when you enter).

When it's your turn, tell the bank official that you would like to open a no-fee Electronic Check Account (also known as eBanking) and will need a debit card and PIN. Use your passport and driving license for idenification.

Open your account with your gas money. Have the bank official test your card prior to leaving and use it within a day to ensure it is working at the pumps (any problem? simply visit another BofA branch and they will solve it for you).

The Bank of America electronic check account (also known as eBanking)
As mentioned, there is no service fee and you are not required to keep a minimum balance in your account to avoid future fees. I keep a $25 balance in my account during the months I'm not in the USA just to ensure that the account is not accidentally closed. The account was even inactive for more than a year due to family illness but immediately available on my next U.S. visit.

The eBanking account does have some conditions. You can only process transactions through one of the Bank's Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) or access your account online through your computer and the internet. You cannot join the bank line and conduct face-to-face business with one of the counter tellers; if you do you will be charged a transaction fee. Of course, other bank branch officials are there to help you should you have any service problems or need help with an ATM.

Also, you cannot have your bank statement mailed to you, in Canada or the USA.

These conditions have never presented a problem to me. Every month, the Bank sends me an email advising that my statement is now available on the Bank's secure website. It's very simple (and safe) to sign in, view, download my statement as a pdf file and then print it, if required.

There is one interesting aspect to depositing money into your account though. All BofA ATMS are designed to accept a check for deposit amounts - it's supposed to be the only way you can make a deposit into your electronic account.

Just as in the Canadian banking system, U.S. banks have adopted a standardized check format which can be read by a bank's ATM (incidentally, did you know there is no such thing as a post-dated check in the USA since the date field is not keyed or recognized?). But U.S. ATMs do not recognize the standard Canadian bank cheque format so will not "read" a Canadian cheque - it's a Catch-22 situation.

We get around this in one of two ways. A month before traveling to the USA, I mail a cheque drawn on my ScotiaBank account to my BofA branch, and they deposit it for me so we have funds for gas on our drive south. Alternatively, during the winter while in Florida, I take a ScotiaBank cheque to my BofA branch manager, who approves it and makes a manual deposit for me. Both of these approaches do not cost me a fee.

Here is the link to the BofA electronic check account website

The short term visitor
What if you are only going to the USA for a few weeks. This did not seem to be a problem when we talked to BofA officials - they want your business even if just for "customer counts" or the investment return on your "float" deposit. Consumer banking in the USA is very competitive and they want you as a customer. BofA will open an account for you; whether you mention it is for a short term only, is up to you.