There are several reasons why your credit card might get declined when trying to make a purchase. For instance, it could happen due to insufficient funds or because you’ve maxed out your card. Ultimately, the reason why your card is being declined depends on the particulars of your situation.
Awkward? Frustrating? Embarrassing? You bet. And in some instances, having your card get declined — especially when you have money — can be worrisome and costly. Let’s take a look at seven common reasons why your credit card may get declined and what you can do if it happens to you.
What Does It Mean for Your Credit Card to Be Declined?
When a credit card is declined, something went awry, and your transaction wasn’t processed. In turn, you won’t be able to make a purchase with that card. That’s because the credit card issuer did not provide authorization on your account — an essential component to what a credit card is and how credit card transactions function.
Sometimes, your credit card is declined due to what turns out to be an easy fix — for instance, a simple blunder like punching in the wrong ZIP code or a chip malfunction. In other cases, the reason might be something more complex and require steps to resolve before you can resume using a credit card.
7 Reasons Why Your Credit Card May Have Been Declined
Standing at the register wondering, ‘Why is my card being declined?’ Knowing the reason can help prevent the situation from happening again and ensure that future transactions go through smoothly.
1. You’ve Met Your Credit Limit
If you’ve maxed out your card — meaning you reached your credit limit — the issuer might block further purchases from going through.
Your credit limit is how much credit a card issuer extends you on a particular card. This amount varies from cardholder to cardholder, and it hinges on a handful of financial factors. You can find your credit limit on your credit card statement as well as in your cardholder agreement.
You’re more likely to reach your upper credit limit if you’re carrying an existing credit card balance. Beyond causing your credit card to get declined maxing out on your card — or getting close to it — can ding your credit. That’s because it increases your credit utilization rate, which is a factor in determining your credit score. It’s generally recommended to keep your credit usage below 30%.
What to do: Pay down your balance. You can also request a higher credit limit, but this could open the door to racking up more debt.
2. Your Transaction Was Flagged as Suspicious
Wondering ‘why is my card getting declined when I have money?’ In this scenario, it could be due to something entirely out of your control. For instance, the card issuer might block a transaction from going through to protect you from fraudulent activity.
Fishy purchases might include a transaction for a big-ticket item or a first-time purchase from a website or app. Or, it may raise a red flag to the card issuer if you use a card after a long dormant, or if there’s a cascade of purchases made in different locations within a short period of time.
What to do: Often, the card issuer will contact you to let you know that there’s been suspicious activity on your card and that your card has been temporarily blocked. You’ll be asked to review the last few transactions to make sure they’re indeed legitimate and that they were made by you. You can also reach out to the credit card company to see why your card has been blocked.
3. There’s a Large Transaction Pending
A merchant might request a credit card hold on your account if you make a large-ticket purchase. That’s because the merchant wants to ensure it will get paid what it’s owed. If there’s a hold on your card, that means that a portion of your credit limit is set aside, which could prevent further transactions from being authorized.
Holds are also common for transactions where the grand total might not be determined when you make an initial payment — think hotels, resort fees, purchases on cruise ships, and car rentals. The hold is usually lifted a few days after a transaction is cleared, if not sooner.
What to do: You can clear a hold by either reaching out to your credit card issuer or the merchant and requesting that it’s lifted. While there are no guarantees, it’s worth asking.
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4. You Provided Incorrect Payment Details
Punching in incorrect payment details — think your billing address, card number, credit card expiration date, or security code — can result in your card not going through. And when you’re trying to use your card at the gas pump or at a brick-and-mortar store, entering the wrong ZIP code on the keypad can also trigger a “card declined” message.
What to do: Double-check all information before attempting to resubmit payment. Or, if you’re making an in-store purchase, consider using a mobile payment platform.
5. You’ve Defaulted on Payment
One of the significant consequences of a credit card late payment is that your card issuer might block you from making further purchases. A single late payment usually won’t trigger this result, but if you’re late for several months in a row, you might default on your card. In turn, your transactions might not go through.
Not only does falling behind on your payments impact your ability to tap into your card to pay for things, but it also dings your credit. Plus, it can trigger late fees.
What to do: Make a credit card payment as soon as you can. Once your payment is posted, your card should be unblocked and you can start using it again.
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6. Your Credit Card Is Deactivated or Expired
Cards usually expire three to five years from its issue date, after which point you can no longer use the card. Because the period until expiration varies, don’t forget to glance at the expiration date on a credit card if it’s been some time since it’s gotten some use.
You also won’t be able to use a credit card that’s been idle for a long stint or deactivated entirely. How long it takes for your card to be deactivated due to a lack of use will vary.
What to do: If you’re juggling multiple credit cards, remember to routinely check the expiration dates. You might also consider keeping a log of when each card expires, or when you last used it.
7. Your Purchase Was Attempted While Traveling
If a purchase was made in Prague and you live in Pittsburgh, this could alert the card issuer of potentially suspicious activity. In turn, a temporary freeze might be placed on your account.
What to do: Set a travel notification before you depart. Some card companies make it easy for you to set a notification on its mobile app. Otherwise, give the issuer a call to give them a heads-up of your travel dates and planned destinations.
What to Do if Your Credit Card Is Declined
The steps you’ll need to take to get to the bottom of a credit card getting declined largely depends on why it happened. In general, however, here are some moves you should make if your card was declined.
Contact the Credit Card Company
Reaching out to the credit card company can help you figure out exactly why your card was declined. If it was due to reasons such as suspicious activity or because you were traveling, you can verify the transactions. In turn, your hold can get lifted.
Verify Account Details
Incorrect information stored on retailer accounts, payment platforms, and your digital wallet could result in a failed transaction. Check to make sure the details on the cards on file are accurate.
Make a Card Payment
If you’re behind on your payments, make a credit card minimum payment as soon as possible. Once the payment goes through, the card issuer will likely unblock your card.
Preventing Your Credit Card From Being Declined
To avoid a declined credit card in the first place, mind these steps:
• Set card alerts. Signing up for email or text alerts for your credit card transactions will help you stay on the lookout for suspicious activity. You can get notifications when purchases are made over a certain threshold or for any in-store, online, or over-the-phone purchases.
• Keep tabs on your card balances. Monitor your spending and check how much of a balance you have on your cards. Stay below your credit limit to remain in the clear. As discussed previously, maxing out your cards — or nearing the threshold — will put you in danger of a declined credit card.
• Stay on top of your payments. Make it a priority to stay on top of paying off your cards. Pay at least the minimum amount required by the credit card payment due date. Consider putting your card payments on autopay, which will help you ensure you make your payments on time. On-time payments will also help boost your credit score and avoid late or returned payment fees.
• Set travel notifications. Some credit cards have a travel notification feature on their app. Before you depart, reach out to your card issuer to let them know when and where you’ll be traveling.
Having your credit card declined while trying to pay for something can feel frustrating. It’s important to figure out why your card is being declined, whether it’s due to late payment or an expired card. From there, you’ll know what steps to take to prevent it from happening again and ensure that you can use your card when you need it.
Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.
Can a credit card be unblocked?
Yes, you can unblock a credit card. How you’ll do so depends on the reason it was blocked in the first place. As such, you’ll first want to get to the bottom of why your credit card was blocked. Then, you’ll need to take the necessary steps to release the block. For example, if your card was blocked due to suspicious activity, you’ll need to call the card issuer and confirm you made the last few purchases.
How long does it take to unblock a credit card?
It depends. If it’s a temporary block, your card can get unblocked immediately. But in other instances, it can take a couple days or even a couple weeks to unblock a credit card.
How can I check the status of my card?
You can check the status of your card by logging onto your account via a computer or mobile app. You can also check its status by calling the customer service number listed on the back of the credit card and inquiring.
How long does it take for a declined transaction to come back?
It depends on the card issuer and the reason why the transaction was declined. In some cases, it can take a few days. And in other cases, it can take longer.
Photo credit: iStock/bernardbodo
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