Why "is this a debit card?" at fuel pump?

The fuel pumps I use always start by asking “Is this a debit card?” after I put my credit card in. I’m not interested in why they need to know that; I assume it makes a difference in how they process the card. My question is why can’t the card reader tell whether it’s a debit card? It can read and process all sorts of other information, so “debit card yes/no” would seem trivial.
Is that basic information not on the card? Why not?

Some cards (my ATM, for example) can be used either way.

I too hate this. Sure, some DEBIT cards can be used either way, but not credit cards. I always use a credit card, and it always asks. Very frustrating!

Most (all?) debit cards can be used as either credit or debit. One of them, credit or debit (I cannot recall which one), charges the merchant a higher processing fee. If it is a dual use card, then the merchant will charge it in the method that is the lower fee unless you select otherwise.

Really? Is that an American thing?

Not sure if it is an American thing, but yes. I have a debit card that can be used for ATM withdrawals, but it also has a Mastercard logo.

I can use it also to process purchases at stores as a debit card. However, some stores do not accept debit transactions, so the card can be processed as a credit card as well.

The procedure is transparent to the user, and the money still comes out of my bank account (it is not an extension of “credit” in the usual sense).

It’s not that it’s used as a credit card, but that it’s processed through the credit network as if you were using a credit card. (But the money still comes out of the bank, and if you don’t have enough funds, you’ll get an overdraft charge from your bank.) There are also some other technical differences like how much it costs the merchant, how quickly the debit is recorded in your account, whether you have to use a PIN or signature (or neither if the transaction is a low enough amount), and what consumer protections you may have.

In the US, if you use a card as a debit card, is it processed by some other system that is separate from the Visa/Mastercard system?

Not sure. But since my Visa branded debit card is the only personal card I have that is chip and PIN it was very handy on a recent trip to Belgium when dealing with kiosks that couldn’t handle chip and sign.

I can withdraw cash from an ATM with my CC, but they charge me interest until it’s paid off. I get up to 56 days of free credit when I make a purchase using a CC. A debit card transaction, ATM or purchase, has the cash withdrawn from my account straight away.

I have never been asked, “Is this a debit card?” for any transaction, the two cards are mutually exclusive.

As I understand it, yes. It is processed by the banks as an electronic funds transfer (EFT) transaction.

Here’s all you want to know.

After getting the “is this a debit card?” after swiping what I was certain was a credit card at a gas pump, I pushed the “yes” button, just to see what would happen. It prompted me for a PIN, and that’s as far as my experiment went. It’s possible my credit card has a PIN, but I certainly don’t know what it is, as I’ve never needed to use it in that fashion.

I cancelled the transaction and started over, pushing “no” as usual.

I believe the second quote more or less addresses the first one, although the situation is far from clear, at least in Canada, where the VISA logo starting appearing on debit cards many years ago. I still don’t know what it’s good for, and explanations like this are pretty vague.

What I know for a fact is that whenever I brandish a piece of plastic in front of the POS machine in a store, the cashier always wants to know if it’s debit or credit, and if they accidentally make the wrong selection, then the machine gets all huffy in an electronic version of a conniption fit and rejects the card as completely invalid. It may or may not be relevant that all POS transactions here are chip and PIN based, and that applies equally to debit and credit. But the systems they are processed through appear to be different.

If indeed it is possible, say, to register my debit card with Amazon as a form of payment, I would never do it, because debit cards have far less protection against fraud than credit cards. But I’m doubtful it would even work. Has anyone ever done this?

I have a debit card from an American bank (they won’t give me a credit card), but it has a Visa logo on it and is accepted wherever a Visa card is.

UK here. My Bank of Scotland debit card is what I usually use to pay for Amazon stuff (and most other online payments). It has a Visa symbol on it mind you, so it probably does route through part of their network. That’s not particularly helpful, I know.

Other payment methods used so far this year:

  • my debit card allows small contactless payments
  • my phone ditto
  • I paid the window cleaner via gmail in some weird fashion when his card reader was broken
  • I can use FastPay via online banking to more-or-less instantly send money to anyone who shares their bank account number and sort code
  • cash (actually still use cash a fair bit)
  • favours

If I’d needed to book a hotel, flights or hire a car, that would be the actual credit card, but not so far in 2019

I can’t speak for most states but here in Oregon, where pump jockeys still fuel your car for you, the debit/credit question determines whether or not you pay an extra 10 cents per gallon at many stations around here. Annoyingly, even though using a debit card will eliminate that surcharge, you have to get out of your car to enter your PIN. I’d just as well pump my own gas at that point.

No, that’s exactly was I was asking about, as all our debit cards here in Canada (and the US, I think) all have VISA or MC logos on them. Thanks for the info. I’m still not confident that it would work on this side of the pond, but maybe it would. But it’s bizarre that all retailers have to know if it’s a debit or credit card in advance. I don’t think Amazon has any such option – you just tell them what type of credit card it is, VISA, MC, or AmEx, or whatever else they take.

I love that. Use it all the time, especially for small grocery store purchases and the occasional sinful fast-food drive-through purchase, where it’s so quick and convenient that I never use cash any more.

Probably the same as “Interac transfer” in Canada. I love that, too. You get an email within seconds that the money transfer has been sent, and then an email notification that the recipient has accepted and deposited the funds. A couple of mouse clicks for the sender, and if the recipient is pre-authorized and registered, literally one click with a mouse or on their phone, and the money is deposited.

In the United States, Mastercard and Visa debit cards are required to clearly display the word “debit” on them as a result of lawsuit settlements.

But this does not help an electronic card reader.

Mastercard and Visa use the BIN numbers (the first 6 digits of the credit card number) to identify the issuer and type of card. There are many web sites where you can enter the BIN number of a credit card and it will tell you if it is credit or debit. The operator of the gas pump probably does not want to go to the trouble and expense of loading in the databases and then having to constantly keep them up to date.

My debit card doesn’t have a Visa or MC logo. Never has.

I find it varies with the retailer. Safeway always asks if it’s debit or credit, but other retailers don’t. I think it must be a function of the card readers used by each retailer.

It’s less about who processes it but at what rate.

Banks want to make sure businesses aren’t cheating and processing a cash advance as a regular transaction (higher rate) or as a debit card. Surcharges aren’t allowed on debit cards or prepaid cards but are on credit cards.

Visa and MC do allow businesses to only take debit card, or only take credit cards, so simply seeing a Visa/MC logo won’t guarantee your card is taken there.

To add to the confusion, Visa will also allow your business to choose to take Visa credit card AND PIN debit cards, but NOT signature debit cards

You can tell by the number if it is a credit card or debit card (see binlist) so there is no real need for the machine to ask but it’s set up that way.

It’s like where I work, the non-exempt people use a hand print to punch in. They enter a number, hit enter and palm the reader. You don’t HAVE to program it with a number. (That is done basically to allow recording one employee working in two departments or to be paid to different wage scales), but most employers still make you put in an employee code anyway. Why? I don’t know, it seems to complicate matters but some people don’t get it or are lazy if it comes that way.