Looking for a way to make it easier for your drivers to pay for fuel and other expenses on the road? Business gas cards (also known as fleet cards or fuel cards) can help. Modern fleet cards can even help managers get control of spending.
In this article, we discuss how business gas cards are different from other payment methods, what businesses can benefit from using them in their fleet, and which features to look for so you get the right option for your company.
Table Of Contents
- What Are Business Gas Cards?
- How Do Business Gas Cards Work?
- Can Your Fleet Benefit From Business Gas Cards?
- Features To Look For In Business Gas Cards
What Are Business Gas Cards?
Business gas cards are a flexible and secure way for fleet operators to pay for fuel while away from home base.
With cash and checks, you have very little power to curtail what drivers spend money on. Even prepaid fuel cards and regular business credit cards don’t often give you the control you need to manage spending to the proper degree.
Modern business gas cards allow you to set policies and spending limits on such things as fuel, maintenance, and emergency repairs. Some cards even let you monitor the charges your drivers make and approve expenses in real time.
Advanced controls such as these can help keep costs low while, at the same time, simplifying and streamlining the way your fleet operates. That’s a win-win for all.
How Do Business Gas Cards Work?
The foundation of all business gas cards rests on three important characteristics: who can use the card, what they can buy, and where the card is accepted.
Who Can Use Your Business Gas Cards
Most business gas cards allow you to assign a specific card to a vehicle or driver on your team. The driver then activates the card — either with a PIN or text message — and verifies their identity so they can pay for fuel or other expenses.
Using a PIN to verify driver identity (and prevent unauthorized use) works like this: After you assign a card to a driver, you also give them a unique personal identification number (PIN).
When the driver wants to use the card, they swipe or insert it into the credit card reader at the pump or the register and then enter their PIN to authorize the purchase.
Using a text to verify driver identity works like this: Instead of assigning cards by name or vehicle, you enter a cell phone number — either the driver’s personal number or the number of a business device — and link it to your account.
When the driver needs to fill up on fuel, they first send a brief text message from the linked cell phone number to activate the card and authorize the purchase.
What They Can Buy
Some advanced business gas cards give you and your drivers the flexibility to pay for more than fuel. With a few simple clicks or taps, you can specify what products or services your drivers are allowed to buy with the card.
You can, of course, restrict spending to just fuel. Or, you can add other expenses to the list, such as maintenance, emergency repairs, parts, supplies, food, and even lodging.
Such customization gives you the power to control spending and make your business gas cards extremely useful for short-haul, long-haul, in-town, and cross-country drivers alike.
With the right solution in place, your business no longer has to purchase and keep track of cards from multiple different companies (e.g., one for fuel only, one for maintenance, and one for other expenses).
One card will do it all.
Where The Card Is Accepted
Where the business gas cards are accepted can usually be divided into two categories: open loop and closed loop.
Closed loop cards have restricted acceptance that you can’t change and often force your drivers to go out of their way to find a station that accepts the card. Many legacy fuel cards are closed loop cards.
That adds another level of stress to an already difficult job. It also puts restrictions on driver freedom that may affect their performance and reduces their ability to make the right decision for themselves, the customer, and your business as a whole.
Open loop cards (like Visa cards), on the other hand, can be used wherever Visa is accepted and give drivers the freedom to pay for products and services whenever and wherever they need to.
This allows them to remain on an optimal route and reduces the likelihood that they’ll have to go out of their way (thereby increasing MPG) to find a station that accepts the payment method they have on hand.
Real-world flexibility like this can translate into significant savings of both time and energy for your drivers and your business.
Can Your Fleet Benefit From Business Gas Cards?
As we discussed, business gas cards provide fleet managers with unprecedented control over how drivers spend money while on the road.
But is that benefit only accessible to large businesses with 20 or more vehicles in service? In other words, can small or medium-sized businesses benefit from using business gas cards? They can.
You may think that fuel cards are only for companies that operate semis or have a large number of vehicles on the road. In actuality, fleets of all sizes and types can enjoy the advanced features that business gas cards have to offer.
It doesn’t matter if your business operates two scooters, four cars, seven pickup trucks, nine vans, or a wide range of heavy equipment, you and your team can enjoy the same spending controls, security, and reporting tools as companies with five times the number of vehicles.
That said, not all business gas cards are created equal. How can you choose the best option for your team and your company? Let’s take a look.
Features To Look For In Business Gas Cards
Modern fleet cards come with a wide variety of characteristics and tools. Some of those characteristics and tools provide outsize advantages for your business.
Here are important features to look for in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks.
1) Spending Controls
Spending controls are at the heart of what makes business gas cards so useful to companies large and small.
Some cards give you the power to:
- Restrict purchases to fuel only
- Limit spending by day of the week
- Restrict spending by time of day
- Set caps on transaction amounts
- Add additional expense categories (such as parking or maintenance)
More advanced fleet cards even allow you to set expense limits based on the location of the vehicle or the size of the vehicle’s fuel tank. This can help you eliminate non-business purchases hidden among other transactions and avoid unnecessary spending.
2) Fleet Manager Access
While spending controls are the foundation of modern business gas cards, those controls will only benefit your business if they’re easy to access.
The quickest and easiest way to manage the policies you’ve set for your drivers is through an online portal. Basing card controls on the internet means that you can adjust settings any time, day or night, from wherever you happen to be.
All you need is a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop with an internet connection, and you’re good to go.
Not every card offers a fleet manager dashboard with easy internet access. Choosing one that does will make your job — and your drivers’ jobs — much easier.
3) Universal Acceptance
Another key feature to look for in a fleet card is universal acceptance.
Some business gas cards set brand and geography restrictions on where drivers can purchase fuel or repairs. Limits like this make it more difficult for drivers to find stops along their route and often mean they have to go out of their way to fuel up.
Detours that take drivers out of the way waste precious time and cost your business extra mileage and fuel costs.
The wider access to fuel that an open loop fleet card offers makes it much easier for drivers to find the stops along their planned driving path that offer the lowest-priced fuel and means they won’t have to go out of their way to try to save money.
Flexibility like this can help your business save two very important things: money and time.
4) Easy Assignment And Distribution
Many legacy business gas cards require you to order their product with a driver’s name printed directly on the plastic.
But what happens if driver changes take place for one reason or another? You have to destroy the old card and order another one.
While you wait for the card to arrive, the new driver you hired has to go without a method of payment, or you have to give them cash or a non-fleet Visa. Neither situation is good for business.
Advanced fleet cards that come with access to online services solve this problem. They don’t mandate printing a driver’s name directly on the plastic. Instead, you can order as many cards as you need and assign them to vehicles or drivers through the company dashboard.
You can then distribute the card to each driver when you give them their assignment so that anyone who operates the vehicle has access.
This feature also makes it easy to reassign cards if a vehicle is retired or if drivers need to be reassigned.
Security for drivers and fleet managers alike is more important than ever before. Quality fleet cards come with extra security built in so you don’t have to worry about what’s going on while your drivers are away.
This extra security often includes such features as:
- Real-time expense tracking
- Unauthorized purchase protection
- Custom rules for different employees or vehicles
- Fuel-only purchases
- One-off purchase authorization
- Time-of-day, day-of-the-week limits
Some cards provide alerts about questionable transactions and give you the ability to deactivate or reactivate a card in just a few clicks.
Top-of-the-line business gas cards add even more security features, including EMV chips in every card.
EMV (short for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa) chips are tiny microchips embedded in the plastic of the card. These chips generate a unique code every time a user swipes or inserts the card to make a purchase.
The codes that the EMV chip generates are only good once (for a single purchase) and cannot be used a second or third time to buy something else.
This security feature prevents someone from recording one transaction and using that information to buy something else at another location or at another time.
Should they try, the system will refuse the transaction and notify you of unauthorized access so you can deactivate the card and protect your business.
6) Reporting Tools
Another essential feature to look for in business gas cards is the reporting tools that come with them.
With the right reporting options, a fleet card can actually reduce paperwork. This, in turn, helps save fleet managers time, improves record keeping, and cuts down on the effort it takes to keep your fleet running smoothly.
Using legacy business gas cards means that you’ll have to track vehicle expenses with paper receipts and a monthly statement. That makes your job more complicated and stressful — especially if drivers forget to turn in their expenses when they return to base.
Modern business gas cards, on the other hand, make it possible to do away with paper receipts completely and track charges online.
Digital records and reporting give you the power to control spending, reduce waste, minimize needed storage space, and maximize fuel management throughout your fleet.
7) No Hidden Fees
Be careful when shopping for business gas cards to avoid those with extra or hidden fees. Many of the most common fuel cards hide these fees in the fine print so that you only discover them after you get your first statement.
Extra and unexpected charges can seriously affect your fleet operations and your business’s bottom line.
Hidden fees to avoid include:
- Transaction fees
- Credit-risk fees
- Out-of-network fees
- Per-gallon service charges
Choose a card that makes your monthly statement easy to understand and never charges extra fees for activities your drivers need to do every day.
8) Low Administration Fees
In addition to no hidden fees, look for business gas cards that offer low administration fees. At the very least, look for complete transparency in the user agreement so you understand what charges you may incur.
Examples of administration fees you might encounter include:
- Electronic payment processing charge
- Check processing charge
- Phone-payment charge
- Higher late charges for balances above a certain level
- High credit risk charge
- High subscription and use charges
- Extended network pricing
- Setup charges
- Program maintenance charges
- Research charges
Limit administration charges by choosing a card with a fair, transparent, and easy-to-understand fee structure.
9) Payment Terms
Before choosing a fuel card, take the time to evaluate all the terms that come along with it — not just the hidden fees and administration fees.
Look for payment terms that make it possible for your business to optimize cash flow and prevent paying the bill from coming into conflict with other fleet needs.
For example, some cards may lock you into a 14-day payment schedule so that you have to make a payment every two weeks. Other cards may up the ante even more by locking you into a 7-day payment schedule so that you have to make a payment every single week.
And the payment terms to watch out for don’t stop there. While reading the fine print, look for details about late fees, rebates, and rewards.
Some companies bury their late fees deep within the fine print of the payment terms in the hopes that you won’t read that far. If you don’t identify them before using the card, the late fees can add up quickly and take a big bite out of your bottom line.
For example, some fuel cards charge as much as 12.25% of the total balance when you miss a payment. A late fee like this on a bill of $10,000 means that you would owe an extra $1,225 ($10,000 x 0.1225 = $1,225) if the payment is late.
Other fuel cards charge a flat rate regardless of the total balance on your account. A late fee like this on a bill of $10,000 means that you would only owe an extra $35 if the payment is late.
The difference between these two late-fee structures is significant and can have a profound impact on your bottom line.
As fuel costs continue to rise, the pain at the pump becomes more and more real every day. But with the right business gas cards, you can reduce that pinch point without cutting back on the fuel you buy.
How? By taking advantage of a gas card that offers a per-gallon rebate wherever your drivers fill up (not just at certain stations).
And, while a small rebate of just a few cents may not seem like a big deal, when you multiply it by the number of gallons of fuel your vans, trucks, semis, and construction equipment use every day, the savings can really start to add up.
That said, some companies put limits on the rebates they offer.
For example, one fuel card company might offer a rebate for the first three months you use the card or for the first 100 gallons per statement period. Others may only offer rebates at certain gas brands.
It’s worth reading the fine print closely in order to identify the rebates your card offers and any limits attached so you’re not surprised and disappointed down the road.
Another feature to look for while reading the payment terms is any rewards the company offers for making regular purchases.
While rebates are certainly one of those rewards, some business gas cards allow you to take advantage of:
- Sign-up bonuses
- Referral incentives
- Discounts with partner businesses
Again, these rewards might not seem like much at first, but, over time, the savings can really add up.
10) Good Customer Service
When shopping for business gas cards, most fleet managers focus on the features mentioned earlier in this list — universal acceptance, spending controls, data tracking, fees, rebates, and rewards.
While all of those are extremely important, don’t overlook a specific feature that often provides more long-term value: customer service.
Just like a partner you bring into your business, the gas card company you choose can make your job easier or make your job more difficult.
If the company offers customer service that doesn’t gel with the way your business works, they’re making your job more difficult.
Instead, make your job easier by choosing a customer service team that:
- Allows you to connect with them on your terms, not the other way around
- Gives you answers when you need them
- Understands the fleet business and what it takes to succeed
- Responds quickly when you ask a question
- Delivers personalized service any and every time
- Doesn’t transfer you through an endless phone tree to get to the right person
- Provides easy ways to get in touch (e.g., text, email, and phone)
- Does everything they can to reduce or remove roadblocks that can hinder the way your business works
When you include the customer service team on the list of important features to look for, you set your business up to partner with a gas card company that has your best interests in mind and that can help you succeed.
Business Gas Cards For Every Fleet
Regardless of the type of vehicles you operate or how many you have on the road, Coast can provide business gas cards for your fleet.
With the Coast fleet and fuel card and online platform you get:
- Easy manager access
- Advanced spending controls
- Visa acceptance
- Security alerts
- Data tracking and reporting
To learn more about Coast, visit CoastPay.com today.