7 Reasons Your Card Was Declined and What You Can Do About It

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“I’m sorry, your card didn’t go through.”

Many of us have been there. Whether you’re buying dinner for your co-workers, drinks for a date, or just a cartload of groceries, no one wants to hear that their credit card was declined.

It happened to me at a hardware store. I came to buy plants and decided to make copies of my keys too. I paid for the keys at the service desk and then dragged a flatbed cart full of plants to the checkout at the garden center, where I was told, “Ma’am! Your card got declined!” Embarrassing? Absolutely.

My bank declined the second charge because it suspected fraud – I’d already used the card at the location – but that’s just one reason why your credit card might be declined. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has a list of reasons you’ll hear the dreaded “I’m sorry” and how to avoid them. Watch it, then read on for more detail.

It’s fairly obvious that your credit card can be declined if you’ve failed to pay your bill or if you’ve reached the card’s total spending limit. Here are seven other reasons that aren’t as well-known.

1. Unusual activity

If you usually use your credit card once a week and then use it multiple times in a day, make a much larger than normal purchase, or check out at the same store more than once in a brief period of time, your bank may decline a purchase as a possible stolen card or fraud risk.

To avoid this, call your bank before you make a large purchase. Also, make sure they have your cellphone number. Some banks will call you before or immediately after declining a card because of unusual activity. You might get the whole mess cleared up at the checkout counter if the bank can reach you.

2. Over the daily spending limit

Issuers place a daily spending limit on credit and debit cards. If you go over the limit, your card will be declined, even if you have plenty of credit available to cover the purchase.

Know your daily limit. You can find the information on your bank’s website or by calling the credit department directly.

3. Outdated personal information

In some scenarios – like at the gas pump – you have to enter your ZIP code before you make a purchase. Put in the wrong information and your card will be declined.

Make sure the card company has your current billing address and telephone number. If you move, get on the phone or your bank’s website and update your information as soon as possible.

4. There’s a hold on your account

If you rent a car, book a hotel room, or rent a U-Haul, the company you’re doing business with will estimate how much you might end up spending and put a temporary hold on your card. For example, your hotel might put a hold for a three-night stay plus incidental purchases like the mini-bar. A temporary hold lowers your available credit and can trigger an over-the-limit problem.

When you’re paying at the end of a service or stay, ask in advance if there will be a hold, and if so, for how much. Then mentally deduct that amount from your card’s available balance. And always carry a backup card just in case.

5. International purchases

If you take your card overseas, you run the risk of it being declined. Many lenders automatically decline out-of-country purchases as potential fraud.

Before you leave home, call your card issuer and describe your travel plans. Carry a backup card, and also a debit card to access cash at ATMs. Make sure the issuers of those cards have also been notified that you’re traveling overseas.

6. Your card expired

If your card has gone past the expiration date listed on the front, you won’t be able to make purchases.

Keep track of when your cards will expire and start looking for the replacement in the mail several weeks in advance. If you haven’t received an updated card two weeks before a card expires, call and ask for one.

7. You entered the wrong info online

Your card is valid, you’re under your spending limit, but you can’t make purchases online.

Before you panic, double-check the credit card information you provided on the website. Even one wrong number in your ZIP code is enough to get your purchase declined. Correcting the information on the checkout page is typically enough to fix the problem, but be careful. Multiple incorrect attempts are a red flag, and your card might be deactivated entirely.

Ever been stuck, surprised or offended when your card was declined? Share your tale of woe on our Facebook page!

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  • Kerri

    We had our debit card declined two times this year and had no idea why! In April, we rented a car for a day while we were visiting friends out West, and the lady said the debit card was declined. We thought it was because we just purchased a home and that loan had affected our credit score. I contacted our lender and he was stumped; he said the home loan wouldn’t have made that happen. So, we were puzzled, but didn’t think much more about it. Then, in June, we were changing TV providers and the lady said the debit card was declined. Again, we were stumped. I called the bank this time and asked about both incidences. The woman at the bank couldn’t find a failed attempt on either of our cards in April, so she said the rental car clerk must have entered the credit card number wrong. The failed attempt in June showed that the 3-digit security code was entered incorrectly, again, clerk error. Obviously, it’s embarrassing for you to hear that your card is declined, but realize there might be times when it’s actually the clerk who is causing the card to be declined!! I was relieved after talking to the woman at the bank … I was beginning to worry that there was some unusual card activity going on that I wasn’t aware of!