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During the summer of 2016 I lived by a Dollar General and went there about once a week. I only had a debit card then and paid for everything this way. DG was notable in that I never had to enter my pin or sign a receipt for anything, the cashier would just swipe my card and say I'm good to go. I just realized that this is weird and checked my bank history, and there's never been any charge from Dollar General, or any similar-looking recurring charges that could be it.

I think they might have ran my debit card as a credit card. It's a Visa like this question says can be used (Is there a fee if you used your debit card as credit card?) but there's no charge showing up. Is there anything I can do now to resolve this? Credit Karma doesn't show anything about a debt to DG, nor do my other credit reports from Mint, Capital One, and Discover. Is there a chance that I'm "in debt" still?

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    Did you keep the receipts from using your card? – Lawrence Oct 8 at 1:58
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    In Australia (and I guess other countries) it's quite common for the registered business name of a store to be completely different from the trading name, so if Dollar General use the registered business name in the bank transactions, you may not realise it's them. – Igby Largeman Oct 8 at 5:15
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    @RonJohn it's easy enough to know that you have plenty of cash to cover expenses such that a few bucks at a dollar store won't make a difference. If you're living week to week such that you can't cover costs in the case of a few dollars being charged in a different month than you expected you're probably not managing it well. – Murphy Oct 8 at 10:39
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    @Acccumulation I can confirm Igby’s observation that in Australia, the merchant’s name in credit card statements sometimes bears no resemblance to the name advertised on the shop. – Lawrence Oct 8 at 15:32
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    @BradyGilg fraud detection, unexpected charges and forgetfulness are great reasons to regularly scan your bank and CC transactions. – RonJohn Oct 8 at 16:34
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It's been 3 years, just let it go. Chances are the transactions did go through but you are either not looking at the right statements or the transactions are showing as something that you can't recognize as DG.

Even if you were never charged nobody knows how much exactly you owe. DG has written those charges off as loss and moved on.

There is nothing that can be done.

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    Don't assume "stale" charges won't show up on your statement at some point. I once had a hotel charge appear more than a year after I stayed there. The card issuer told me that charges generally post within 90 days, but there's no hard limit as to when something is so old it can't get posted. The next time Dollar General upgrades their credit card systems, some of these charges could be discovered and suddenly post to your account. – bta Oct 8 at 22:14
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    @bta After 3 years? I doubt it. – ventsyv Oct 9 at 13:40
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    @bta I'm asking because my current bank started charging monthly fees and I'd like to switch banks and close this account. I don't want to have charges show up and go to collections – user90637 Oct 9 at 14:39
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    @DG_guy That's a reasonable thing to be worried about, but it's not one you actually need to fear. If the transaction has happened more than ~30 days ago (long enough for the authorization to "fall off"), then it's entirely the business' fault if the transaction doesn't go through and they just have to eat the cost. – Bobson Oct 10 at 4:43
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Charging a debit card "as a credit card" doesn't mean that your debit card will actually act as a credit card. It doesn't build up a debt which must be explicitly paid later, as a credit card would. The amount charged is directly taken from your bank account.

The main difference in charging a debit card "as a credit card" is that the authentication requirements are different; that's why you didn't have to enter your PIN, like you would at an automatic ATM. Other differences are largely on the merchant's side -- transaction fees, chargeback rules, things like that -- but none of that will affect where the money comes from. Using a debit card as a credit card just means that you're going through a different payment network, one which also supports credit cards.

In any case, using a credit card at a store doesn't mean you build up a debt to that store. The store gets paid by the bank that issued the credit card. Your debt would be to the bank. Again, though, that's for a credit card, not a debit card.

If you're looking for the transactions in the place where you expect to find credit card charges, you won't find them there. You'll find them with your debit card transactions. (Note that it can be difficult to associate the line items from your statements with the actual transactions. Try matching up the amounts, not the names.)

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    +1 for the last line Try matching up the amounts, not the names. Companies often use a different brand name to what appears on your statement. – Notts90 Oct 8 at 12:10
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    In addition, if your statements include the location of the charge, the charges can appear to come from somewhere far away. Worst is when both of these happen - I once bought gas from a gas station that processed credit card charges under a different name in a state several hundred miles away, and triggered a fraud alert that froze my credit card until I could figure out what had happened. – asgallant Oct 8 at 16:42
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The lack of a signature isn't particularly concerning. Credit card and debit card companies have been phasing out signatures since 2015. Individual merchants may still require signatures.

More troubling is that you claim the charges never showed up on your bank or credit card statements. Long delays sometimes happen with overseas use, but having multiple charges never submitted by a local merchant over several months would be remarkable. Banks and credit cards typically impose surcharges for delayed charges by merchants and may impose a strict time limit, but that's between the merchant and the bank or clearing house. You may be protected from long overdue bills from by local consumer protection laws, but those vary by state. Typically those protections don't keep you from getting sued by the bank or credit card agency, but can be raised in your response.

This is so odd though, that my first advice would be to review you bank statements with a fine tooth comb. You likely missed something.

7

I've encountered similar situations in retail.

  • In the first instance, the cashier was intentionally not charging the customer for their purchases (alcoholic drinks) because he found them attractive. This was his way of trying to get their attention.

  • In the second instance, a worker mistook the customer for an extended family member and gave them the usual (100%!) discount without realising that they were a total stranger.

  • The final instance involved an elderly volunteer. She had been shown how to use the credit card system but struggled on the days when she'd forgotten her glasses. She would pretend to take a payment but just pass the card from one hand to the other and tell the customer that a payment had been taken.

Obviously without interviewing the cashier, it's not easy to understand why your card wasn't charged, but it could be intentional rather than accidental.

As to how to resolve it, sufficient time has passed that unless you're wracked with guilt, there's really no cause or need to do anything other than chalking it down as a weird experience.

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    Just love the "just pass the card from one hand to the other and tell the customer that a payment had been taken" :-) – jcaron Oct 9 at 9:23
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    @jcaron For extra realism, go "beep" as you do so! – TripeHound Oct 10 at 8:09
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    @TripeHound - I once did that when I was very much younger. The woman was having trouble swiping it. As a joke I went "beep"and she just passed it through and then refused point blank to believe that I could make the same sound – Valorum Oct 10 at 8:31
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If it was Dollar General then you're fine. The full process on PIN transactions is

  1. Swipe, insert or tap your debit card
  2. Enter your PIN
  3. Store withdraws whatever your total is from your account (there's a bit more to this but it's not relevant here)

The credit process on a debit card is slightly different

  1. Swipe, insert or tap your debit card
  2. Store authorizes the total amount (this is how all credit transaction work, debit or not)
  3. Your bank withdraws the authorized amount from your account
  4. At the end of the day, the store runs what it called a settlement. That tells their merchant service to capture the money. Since the full amount of the transaction has already left your account, you're none the wiser

If the amount is low enough, most stores have an agreement that you don't need to sign for it (hence the clerk swiping and telling you you're "good to go").

There's two places where that debit-as-credit process can trip you up, however

Gas station pay-at-pump credit

Virtually all pumps run an authorization of some low amount (in the US, this is typically $1). The gas station then captures the full amount at the end of the day. This can be problematic for you if you don't remember the full balance of your transaction.

Let's say it's Friday night and you buy $50 in gas, having run it as credit at the pump. You check your bank balance on your phone and see you have $200 showing as a balance. You spend $180 over the weekend. The problem is that the pump only authorized $1, so come the next business day (typically Monday), the merchant account of the gas station is going to have captured $50. Your bank will process that the same or next day (depending on how they do things) and try to debit $49 from your account, but you only have $20 left now. This typically carries an overdraft fee.

Online transactions

A slightly different problem exists online. It's gotten less common now, but it's still out there. By definition, you only run online orders as credit. Most of the time that's not a problem, but if your payment failed, it could cause issues.

Some merchant accounts will try to authorize the full amount of your transaction as a way to ensure there are sufficient funds. This typically happens after they verify your CVV2 number (3 or 4 digit number printed only on the card, separate from the card number) and zip code (address verification). Some merchant accounts then wash it through a fraud filter. If it fails, they will respond accordingly to the merchant site and the sale will not complete.

Did you notice something, though? They made a successful authorization against your card. Here's where things get messy for you. The bank (per their terms and conditions) has now withdrawn that amount from your account. Because there's no capture forthcoming, that money will go back to your account... eventually. How quickly depends on business days and the specific rules of your bank. The company I work for occasionally has people who used debit cards and made several tries with it, not realizing there was a corresponding withdrawal every time. In some cases, they overdrew their accounts with nothing but authorizations. Unfortunately, the bank holds all the cards there with their rules on authorizations. You're at their mercy as to when it expires and goes back into the account. Merchants and their service providers cannot work around that, since they never captured the funds in the first place.

Credit cards with a credit line avoid the problem because the authorization draws against the line of credit, and you're never billed for unsettled authorizations.

  • Your gas example is weird. Why would they request authorization (= reservation) for a /low/ amount? This means they run the risk of not being able to capture the full bill afterwards, as captures above the authorized amount are not guaranteed to be fulfilled. At least around here (EU) gas pump terminals usually authorize an amount higher than an average car tank (common values are 100 or 150 EUR), and then capture the lower bill amount when you're done filling. – WooShell Oct 9 at 5:51
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    The gas pump scenario seems odd to me as well. Some years back when US gas prices first rose above ~$3/gallon I remember seeing stories with the opposite sort of problem; where the pump would authorize $50 or $75; and shut off when that number was reached requiring owners of vehicles with large fuel tanks using debit cards to make multiple transactions to fully fill their vehicles. – Dan Neely Oct 9 at 11:09
  • @DanNeely I remember that too, but in that case it was a hard cap on how much you could buy at once. The more expensive something is, the more likely someone is to steal it. – Machavity Oct 9 at 14:28
  • @WooShell Some pumps might operate differently, but the risk of authorizing a large amount is that the user has a debit card and it debits that amount from their account, even if they don't spend the full amount. People in the US get very jittery about their bank balances, and would possibly file chargebacks against, say, a $75 authorization, which would negatively impact the gas station and merchant account service – Machavity Oct 9 at 14:30
  • @WooShell I've had US and MEX gas companies do both; some do an authorization for $1, some do an authorization for $100. I don't know the logic behind those who just do $1, but I would guess it has something to do with increasing the convenience to the customer by taking some burden to the company instead. I also have seen a gas station that I guess had people calling them asking to get the authorizations removed faster and put up big signs saying "Our pumps send a cancellation on the authorization as soon as the pump clicks off. If you want it removed faster, call your card company." – Davy M went to fund Monica Oct 10 at 5:49
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Was "the cashier" the same person each time? If so, I suspect either incompetence or malfeasance on the cashier's part. If there were different cashiers, as I would expect, the charge might have appeared under a different name and with a fee that—however small—threw off searches by amount.


I have a story around this: In 1984, I was driving to south Florida from the Gulf Coast. My fuel was getting low as I was crossing through the most rural part of the Panhandle (or armpit, as some call this part, near Perry) in the wee hours.

Fortunately I happened upon a Shell station that was open. In those days, Shell had a proprietary card and Shell stations had a two-foot wide console covered with dozens of colored-coded keys arranged in groups (this was long before pay at the pump existed). I had already noticed that Shell employees seemed to need to go through an inordinate number of keypunches to enter a charge, similar to what airline gate agents still do today when changing a booking.

Anyway, the half-awake attendant at this remote Shell was clearly not up to speed on this impressive device and its complex protocols. He grew frustrated and starting banging on the keyboard randomly until a slip came out. Finally I had my little three layer form to sign.

I wasn't paying close attention to the amount, but later I thought I'd better look. The charge was listed, in all caps with stars, as "CREDIT" and apparently one of the codes he randomly entered was "44". Instead of a ten dollar tank of gas (back then, $1.15/gallon) I had a $44 credit.

I expected Shell to figure it out and charge me back, but I'm still waiting. I have always wondered whether that station's management caught this and how it played out for the attendant.

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You're wondering why people aren't charging you money from 3 years ago? What?

If they haven't claimed you owe money then what exactly is the issue?

Dollar General doesn't bill their customers. Either you paid for it at the point of sale or it's their problem. Even if you flat out shoplifted they can't prove it unless they said something at the time.

Even if they did charge you after the fact how would they argue that (and prove it) in court? The burden of proof would be on them.

Finally, there has to be some equivalent of a statute of limitations. Most checks are stamped with "valid for 90 days" or something similar and debit cards follow the same rules. If they haven't said anything for three years, I can't imagine they would have a valid complaint or even care for that matter.

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