When people talk about a blocked credit card, they can mean a couple different things. The first is a hold placed on your card for a certain amount of money, such as the security deposit when you rent a car. Or, they could be referring to the card being declined at the point of sale, sometimes as the result of a temporary “freeze” placed on the card due suspected fraudulent activities.
Each of these instances has an effect on how much credit you can access for future purchase — or whether you can use your card in the first place. But fortunately, all of them can be fixed once you know how to unblock a credit card.
What Is a Credit Card Block?
As discussed, a “credit card block” can refer to a couple different types of credit card disruptions:
• A declined credit card transaction, sometimes caused by a temporary freeze.
• A hold on credit card funds that will be released, but which locks away a certain amount of your credit in the short term.
As a customer, either of these types of credit card blocks can be frustrating and confusing. Learning what’s behind them makes it easier to solve the problem so your credit card works as expected again.
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How Credit Card Blocks Work
Let’s start with credit card “holds,” which are placed by certain merchants as a kind of insurance policy.
For example, if you’ve ever rented a car, you’ve probably experienced this kind of credit card block. Rental car companies put a hold on your car for the total rental charge, and then some extra — a security deposit that can be used to cover accidental damages, late return fees, or fuel charges.
If you don’t encounter any of those contingencies, the company will only charge the rental cost (which is to say, less than the amount that was placed on hold). But still, the hold amount will impact your total available credit until it’s released, which can sometimes take a few days after the final transaction is processed.
You may also encounter a credit card hold when checking into the hotel room, usually for an amount beyond the reservation price to cover incidentals. (Hello, mini bar.) Either way, the good news is that a credit card hold is temporary and will clear on its own once the hold is released.
The other type of credit card block — a declined transaction — may occur for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a closer look at this kind of blocked card next.
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Common Reasons Your Credit Card May Be Blocked
Having a credit card declined is no fun, no matter the circumstances. But understanding the cause can help you unblock your card as quickly as possible.
Here are some of the most common reasons why credit cards get declined.
Incorrect Card Information
These days, most of us type our credit card information into online systems just as often as — if not more often than — we actually swipe plastic. If you’re buying something online, one of the primary reasons a credit card might get declined is because you’ve put in the wrong information. Always take a second look at your card number, billing address, expiration date, and security code to prevent this occurrence.
Another common reason for a declined credit card: it’s past its expiration date! Just as you clean out your cabinets and fridge from time to time, be sure to take a peek through your wallet and ensure all your cards are still “good.” (Usually, card issuers will send a new one just before your card expires. Always take care to dispose of your old card properly.)
Defense Against Fraud
It’s simultaneously frustrating and awesome to find your credit card unexpectedly blocked as a fraud defense mechanism. While the disruption can catch you by surprise, it’s for good reason.
These temporary blocks are placed when issuers suspect fraudulent credit card activity — which can translate to a declined transaction at a critical time. (These blocks often happen when you’re making a larger-than-usual purchase or traveling overseas.)
The good news? This type of blocked credit card situation can be unblocked with a simple phone call — or for some issuers, even by text message. You may also be able to avoid the problem in the first place by letting your card issuer know your travel plans ahead of time.
Hitting Your Credit Limit
For all but the luckiest and most credit-worthy borrowers, credit cards come with a credit limit, which is the maximum amount of money you can borrow using the card. If you’re close to the limit and attempt a transaction that surpasses it, you shouldn’t be surprised if the credit card is declined.
It is possible, however, to ask your credit card issuer for a higher credit limit, especially if you have a good, strong credit history and score to bring to the negotiation.
If your card is physically damaged, a card reader may not be able to read it correctly. The good news is that most point-of-sale systems can use either the magnetic strip or the EMV chip, so even if one part of your card is damaged, you may be able to rely on another. And as long as all the information on your credit card is legible, you’ll still be able to use it to make online purchases.
Sometimes, if you don’t use your credit card very often, the issuer may close the account due to inactivity — and it’s very easy to overlook the letter they send to let you know. It’s possible to see a declined transaction if you miss the memo and attempt to use a card that’s attached to a closed account.
Being behind on payments doesn’t just lead to late fees and knocks to your credit — it can also lead to your card being blocked from further usage. Paying on time is important for keeping a healthy credit score, as well as for keeping your card usable in the first place.
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Pros and Cons of Credit Card Blocks
They might seem purely like an annoyance, but hear us out: there are some benefits of credit card blocks!
|Reduces the risk of fraudulent credit card activity and helps ensure you’re not liable for any money spent fraudulently||A declined transaction can be embarrassing and inconvenient|
|Can alert you to important financial information like an expired card, closed account, or surpassed credit limit||Credit card holds can temporarily tie up money you’d otherwise be able to spend elsewhere|
|Many types of credit card blocks are temporary — and credit card holds automatically clear||A credit card block may indicate a negative financial scenario, such as a maxed-out credit card|
Preventing a Credit Card Block From Your Issuer
Even better than fixing a credit card block after the fact? Preventing it in the first place. Here are a few tips for avoiding this inconvenient scenario:
• Ensure your credit accounts are open, under their limit, and that your cards have not expired. All of these reasons for blocked credit cards can be avoided by doing some regular financial housekeeping.
• Make credit card payments on time. Along with keeping your card usable, this step is critical for ensuring the health of your credit score.
• If you’re planning to travel overseas or make a big purchase, let your card issuer know ahead of time. Many credit card issuers make it easy to set travel dates and locations online, sometimes without even placing a phone call. But even waiting through a phone tree is better than facing a declined card in a foreign country.
Tips for Unblocking a Blocked Credit Card
Already experiencing a credit card block? Here’s how to get it sorted as quickly as possible.
• Communicate with your credit card issuer. If you’re still not sure exactly what’s causing the credit card block, calling the card company is the best way to get the scoop — and fast.
• Make a payment. If your card is being blocked because of late payments, you’ll need to catch up with what you already owe before borrowing more.
• Double-check your card information. If you’re having issues getting a card to go through online, ensure you’ve typed all of your card information and personal contact information correctly.
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There are a few different types of credit card blocks to look out for — but many of them are temporary, and all of them can be fixed with the right attention and effort. You can also often avoid a credit card block in the first place by communicating with your card issuer ahead of travel or major purchases.
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Can I stop a payment on my blocked credit card?
If you need to stop a payment on your credit card, whether it’s blocked or not, the first step is to reach out to the issuer. Let them know which transaction you want to stop and why. You may also be able to ask the vendor itself to stop or reverse the transaction.
How long is a credit card blocked for?
The length of a credit card block will depend on why it’s blocked in the first place. For example, if your issuer has locked your card due to late payments, you likely won’t be able to make any more transactions until you pay the minimum due. But if your credit card is locked due to suspected fraudulent activity, you may be able to get it unlocked as soon as you respond to the issuer’s email or text message.
Can charges be deducted from a blocked credit card?
If a temporary hold is placed on your credit card, you should still be able to make additional charges up to the credit limit. If you’re close to the limit, however, a hold may lead to a declined transaction.
Do payments stop when a credit card is blocked?
Unless you are otherwise informed by your credit card issuer, you should always make payments on time and in at least the minimum amount due — whether or not you’re experiencing a credit card block.
How long does it take to reactivate a blocked card?
Once you’ve resolved the issue that caused the card block in the first place, your credit card should be reactivated quickly.
Photo credit: iStock/Daniel de la Hoz
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