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5 min read.

What is a Fuel Card Program and What Are the Benefits?

Apr 13, 2022 4:39:48 PM

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A fuel card program can be beneficial for small business owners, owner-operators and fleet managers that are looking for a better payment method for fuel purchases than cash, debit cards or credit cards. The problem with handing out cash, debit cards or credit cards to drivers is that there are no restrictions on what can be purchased. That’s a big problem, especially when you’re hiring a new driver. Not to mention, drivers often have to keep track of paper receipts in order to report those purchases to accounting teams, which can make things challenging. The good news is that there’s an easier way. With a fuel card program, you gain controls, reporting, convenience and cost savings with company fuel purchases.

Control of Purchases

Unlike a debit or credit card, a fuel card is designed to control what cardholders can buy. This is a critical benefit for business owners because they can’t necessarily meet their drivers at the gas station every time. For drivers that just need to buy fuel, a fuel card enables that security. Limits can be implemented specific to each driver, and card transactions can be monitored to reduce the chances of employee misuse or theft.

Card Limits

  • Driver or vehicle cards: Cards can be assigned by driver name or vehicle description. If assigned by vehicle, you have the option to use specific PINs for each driver to identify who was responsible for each fuel transaction.
  • Fuel only: While fuel and maintenance is an option with some programs, if certain drivers don’t need that payment flexibility, cards can be restricted to fuel purchases only.
  • Fuel type: Some programs even enable managers to control which fuel product is purchased (e.g., unleaded, midgrade, premium, diesel, dyed diesel) to prevent employee misuse.
  • Day and time restrictions: Set authorized fueling times and days for each card. If some drivers don’t work over the weekend, for example, you can restrict those cards for use Monday to Friday.
  • Transaction limits: Set the number of transactions (purchases) per day that drivers need.
  • Gallon and dollar limits: Depending on the program you choose, some offer gallon limits per transaction to match vehicle tank capacity. Other programs allow managers to set daily, weekly and monthly dollar limits to control spend.

Driver Monitoring

  • Online access: Most programs provide customers with online access to transactions and invoices. Customers can log into their account whenever they need to review driver activity and download transactions, invoices or reports.
  • Odometer entry: Requiring drivers to input the odometer reading of the vehicle at the pump enables fleet managers to track MPG (miles per gallon) and CPM (cost per mile). Any unusual MPG or CPM calculation signals possible misuse or perhaps vehicle maintenance issues.
  • Email alerts: Sometimes setting strict card limits isn’t ideal, but managers might still want to monitor card activity closely. Alerts can be set up for specific cards or for purchases that meet certain criteria like unleaded transactions or activity that occurs over the weekend.

Fraud Protection

In addition to card limits and tools for monitoring card activity, many programs provide fraud protection for customers, just like a credit card. You’ll need to check with your fuel vendor if fraud protection is free because some vendors charge a fee. Fraud protection is important because card skimming at merchant gas station pumps can occur, even if these occurrences are rare. Unfortunately, there is risk whether a fuel card, debit card or credit card is used. Having the tools to catch suspect activity and a fraud policy to protect against those charges is critical when evaluating programs.

Detailed Reporting

Another important benefit of a program is reporting. When a debit or credit is used, the date, time, location and amount for each transaction might be the only information on the bank statement. For some businesses, this is enough. For others, especially those in trucking that need to track gallons closely, more information is needed. With a fuel card, customers receive Level III data which includes date, time, location, driver, vehicle, odometer entry, fuel product, gallons, price per gallon, federal and state taxes and total amount for every card transaction. Having this level of detail can streamline accounting processes, including IFTA and fuel tax refund filings.

Convenient Locations

Commercial Sites

Some fuel card programs provide access to commercial fuel sites. These are similar to gas stations but are usually not open to the general public. Commercial sites are beneficial because they can accommodate commercial vehicles 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most retail gas stations are too small for large trucks, but commercial sites offer larger fuel islands without truck restrictions to make it easier for drivers to enter and exit. These locations are convenient because they often have high-speed dispensers and satellite pumps that enable drivers to refuel trucks quickly.

Gas Stations and Truck Stops

Other card programs provide convenient access to retail gas stations and truck stops. Depending on the card program, this can provide a lot of flexibility for drivers. Rather than looking for specific sites or brands, some programs allow drivers to choose the closest gas station or truck stop. This benefit helps drivers get back on the road quickly.

Cost Savings

Cost-Plus Pricing

If you select a program that includes access to commercial sites, you’ll benefit by receiving cost-plus pricing when you fuel at those sites. Cost-plus pricing differs from retail pricing because it follows the wholesale market rather than being determined by the individual gas station merchant. This pricing model can provide significant cost savings to customers, depending on market conditions. Some programs will provide pricing online for customers to check daily rates for unleaded and diesel.

Low-Cost Brand Choice

Universal fuel card programs give customers the flexibility to fuel at gas stations and truck stops nationwide. Not only is this convenient for drivers, but it can provide cost savings as well. With some programs, cardholders can choose from 320,000 locations that include major and independent brands. This flexibility unlocks savings because you won’t be stuck using the most expensive brands like some card programs require. Instead, customers can shop across brands for the lowest price.

Fuel Tax Exemptions

There are various taxes imposed on unleaded and diesel gallons by federal and state governments. However, some businesses will qualify for an exemption or a refund on those taxes. For example, if you operate off-road equipment, consider a program that provides access to dyed diesel that is exempt of excise (road) taxes. If your business involves agricultural products, states like California allow certain fuel tax exemptions to be applied at the time of fueling. In cases where an exemption is unavailable, you might still qualify for a refund, but you’ll likely need a program that provides detailed reporting to support those refund filings.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a small business owner, owner-operator or fleet manager, a fuel card program offers a number of benefits. It provides a more secure payment method for fuel purchases. Various card limits and account tools are available to reduce the risk of employee misuse. Comprehensive reporting is available with most programs so that you can track every dollar spent, and different programs offer access to different types of fuel locations for convenience and cost savings. Add it all up, and it makes sense why many companies choose to use a fuel card program.

Read the comprehensive guide to fuel cards →

Topics: Fuel Cards
Kira Odlozil

Written by Kira Odlozil

Based in San Diego, CA, Kira Odlozil is the Digital Content Coordinator at P-Fleet. She writes about fuel management, the trucking industry and business-related topics. When Kira isn’t writing, she’s cooking up new recipes, doing yoga, traveling or all of the above.