Guide to Renting a Car With or Without a Credit Card

By Timothy Moore · May 24, 2024 · 7 minute read

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Guide to Renting a Car With or Without a Credit Card

Renting a car with a credit card is easier than renting a car without a credit card, but both methods are possible at many major car rental agencies. Car rental companies typically put customers through more hoops to rent a car without a credit card.

In this guide, we’ll cover how to rent a car without a credit card — but also explore the potential perks of paying for a rental car with a credit card, when possible.

Is It Possible to Rent a Car Without a Credit Card?

So do you need a credit card to rent a car? Technically, no, you do not have to have a credit card to rent a car. It’s possible to rent a car with a debit card at some major rental agencies. Some agencies even accept prepaid gift cards, cash, or money orders as a form of payment at the end of the rental.

Each rental agency has its own stipulations about paying by debit card. Some franchises may not follow corporate policy, so it’s always a good idea to call the specific rental agency location to ask about payment options before arriving at your destination.

Common requirements for customers paying for a rental without a credit card include:

•   Security deposit: Many agencies will put a hold on your debit card for the cost of the rental, plus an additional amount. You will not be able to use the money being held for the duration of your trip, which can make funding your vacation more challenging.

•   Credit check: If you are paying with a debit card (or cash), some rental car agencies may perform a credit check. This could result in a hard inquiry on your credit report, which might temporarily lower your score.

•   Identification: Renting a car without a credit card might mean that the rental agency needs to see multiple valid forms of ID.

•   Age: While 25 is often the magic number to rent a car, it is possible to rent a car as a younger driver. Many agencies charge “young driver fees” to do so. However, if you are renting a car with a debit card, agencies may not allow drivers under the age of 25.

•   Proof of return travel: If renting from an airport with a debit card, many agencies want to see a ticketed return travel itinerary as an extra assurance that you will return with the car.

•   Logos: Some rental car agencies require debit or prepaid cards to carry the logo of a major credit card company, like Mastercard, Visa, or Discover.

The following rental car agencies allow you to rent a car without a credit card at participating franchises if you meet their specific requirements (though note this is not an exhaustive list):

•   Alamo

•   Avis

•   Budget

•   Dollar

•   Enterprise

•   Hertz

•   National

•   Sixt

•   Thrifty

•   Turo

Recommended: Buying a Car with a Credit Card

Why Rental Car Agencies Typically Require a Credit Card to Rent a Car

Why do you need a credit card to rent a car at some agencies, and why do others impose a number of requirements for debit card payments? Here are the reasons rental car agencies require a credit card or other information.

Proof of Reliability

Having a credit card inherently demonstrates to a rental car agency that a creditor trusts you enough to borrow their money. Because rental car agencies can ascertain your creditworthiness from a credit card in your name, they don’t need to run a credit check before loaning you a $25,000 piece of machinery.

Ability to Collect Repair Fees

If you return the car damaged, the rental car agency will need to pay for these repairs. Car insurance (whether through your own policy, credit card travel insurance, or the agency’s policy) may cover most of the charges, but you still might owe a deductible. Without proper insurance, there is a risk that the repair costs will exceed your security deposit.

Though you can rent a car without a credit card, if you pay with a debit card, the rental agency runs the risk of your checking account not having enough funds to cover the cost. There is a better chance the agency can charge your credit card without hitting your credit limit.

Ability to Collect Tickets and Fees

Similarly, if you go through any electronic toll booths or receive a ticket without being pulled over (e.g., through a traffic camera), the rental car agency can charge your credit card to pay the outstanding balance. Again, they face less risk of maxing out a credit card than overdrawing a checking account, which is why some agencies prefer customers renting a car with a credit card.

Benefits of Using a Credit Card for a Car Rental

Here are just a few potential perks of swiping your credit card for a car rental:

•   It’s easier. As discussed above, renting a car without a credit card can complicate the process.

•   You might have insurance. Some travel credit cards offer car insurance when you use them to pay for a rental car. Research your card’s policy carefully to understand what coverage it provides and how to use it. For example, many credit cards with travel insurance require that you decline the rental agency’s insurance; some only offer secondary insurance, meaning you need to file claims through your own auto insurance first.

•   You might get discounts. Some credit cards offer special discounts at select car rental agencies. Check your card’s policy to understand where and how to get discounted rates.

•   You could earn rewards. As mentioned above, you might qualify for cash back rewards when you opt to cover your rental car with a credit card payment. Other cards may pay out rewards as miles or points. Travel credit cards might even offer extra points for travel-related expenses, like rental cars.

Typical Rental Car Credit Card Interest Charges

When you rent a car, the agency typically puts a hold on your credit card for a set amount, often the value of the rental car agreement; this is commonly called a security deposit. During the rental period, these funds will count toward your credit limit.

When you return the car, the agency will charge you the amount of the rental, plus any fees incurred during the rental (damages, extra days, late drop-off, etc.). If the initial hold was more than the final cost of the rental, the agency will put that amount back on your card.

Because you pay interest on money borrowed with a credit card, it’s possible you might incur interest on the held security deposit. However, paying off a credit card in full every month is a smart strategy for avoiding interest charges given how credit cards work.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due?

The Takeaway

Renting a car with a credit card makes the process much easier and can have benefits for the renter as well. However, it is possible to rent a car without a credit card. Just be prepared to take additional steps to get behind the wheel.

Whether you’re looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it’s important to understand the options so you can use your credit card responsibly.

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Do I need a credit card for rental car insurance?

You do not need a credit card to purchase rental car insurance. While using a credit card makes it easier to secure a rental, most agencies allow you to pay upon your return with a credit card, debit card, or even cash, a gift card, or a money order. That includes the cost of insurance provided by the rental agency.

However, many car insurance providers cover rental cars in their policies, especially in the United States. Check with your agent to see if you’re covered. Additionally, some credit cards offer rental car insurance when you use them to pay for the rental. Your credit card benefits administrator can explain how, if, and when coverage applies.

Is it easier to rent a car with a credit card or debit card?

Renting a car with a credit card is easier than renting a car with a debit card. Many agencies will let you rent with a debit card; they just have additional requirements for you to meet before renting.

What form of payments are accepted for renting a car?

While rental agencies generally prefer credit cards for payment, some agencies allow you to book and rent a car with a debit card. Upon return, you may be able to pay for the car with a prepaid gift card, cash, or money order.

Can I use someone else’s credit card to rent a car?

If you use someone else’s credit card to rent a car, that person must be present to pick up the rental and be the main driver. If you intend to drive the rental, you will likely have to pay a fee for an additional driver, as you can’t be listed as the primary driver when using someone else’s credit card.

Photo credit: iStock/skynesher

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