Debit Card Dilemma: 'Soft' Holds can Tie Up Funds in Your Account for Days

By: Leigh Frillici, KHOU
By: Leigh Frillici, KHOU

When the Wilkinsons bought a plane ticket with CheapTickets.com for $405, they were surprised to check their bank account and see they had been charged double the amount.

"At no point, did I authorize that kind of amount to leave my account," said Adam Wilkinson.

Many phone calls later, they learned that a "soft" charge had been placed on their account.

Experts say soft charges are common.

"A soft charge is what a business or retail chain will use to make sure you have the appropriate amount of money in your account to pay for goods and services," said Robert Johnson, Associate Director of the University of Houston’s Center for Consumer Law. 

Johnson said you’ll see soft charges like this at places like gas stations, hotels and restaurants – places that anticipate how much you’ll be spending.

"The bank is trying to protect themselves, the company is as well," said Leah Napoliello, a Senior Director of Investigations at the Better Business Bureau. "So if they are not able to ensure that you have enough funds in your account, they’re going to place a hold on it, a temporary hold.  Once you make the payment it will go away or once it expires it will go away too.’

Cheap Tickets sent 11 News this statement about the Wilkinsons’ situation:

"When that purchase is ticketed by the airline (in this case Continental), a charge is made against the hold authorization that CheapTickets.com initially created with the customer’s bank. In those instances where the merchant details or dollar amount of that charge do not exactly match the initial hold authorization, the customer’s financial institution might require a second hold for the ticket purchase." 

Because Adam and his wife used a debit card, more than $800 of their money was tied up for days. 

"For all practical purposes, I can’t use that money so that makes it just as bad," said Adam Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said despite many phone calls, he couldn’t get the charge removed until the soft hold expired several days later.  Experts say there’s a lesson here – use a credit card.

"A credit card gives you more legal rights than your debit card," said Johnson.

The Wilkinsons said with student loans and moving expenses to pay, that wasn’t an option for them this time.

They said they’ll buy their plane tickets somewhere else in the future.


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