7 Reasons Your Credit Card Will Get Declined — and How to Avoid It

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Many of us have been there — having a credit card declined. In fact, it happened to me at a hardware store.

I went 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, as I’d already used the card at that same location. But that’s just one reason your credit card might be declined.

Here are some lesser-known reasons for which your credit card can be declined:

1. Unusual activity

Credit card on beach with hat and starfish
Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

Say you usually use your credit card once a week. Then, you suddenly use it multiple times in a day, make a notably larger-than-normal purchase or check out at the same store more than once in a brief period. Your credit card company might decline a purchase because it suspects your card has been stolen and is being used fraudulently.

To avoid this, call your credit card company before you make a large purchase.

Also, make sure the company has your cellphone number and email address. Some institutions will contact you before or immediately after declining a card because of unusual activity. You might clear up the whole mess before leaving the checkout counter if the credit card company can reach you.

2. Excessive spending

Surprised woman in store.
Nicoleta Ionescu / Shutterstock.com

Some card issuers place spending limits on credit and debit cards, or enable customers to set limits of their own. If you go over the limit, your card will be declined, even if you have plenty of credit available to cover the purchase.

So, know your card’s limit. You should be able to find it by logging in to your online account or calling the issuer.

3. Outdated personal information

Door with "foreclosed" sign on it.
zimmytws / Shutterstock.com

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 mailing address and telephone number. If you move, get on the phone or online and update your contact information as soon as possible.

4. Temporary holds

Roadblock ahead written on road.
gorstevanovic / Shutterstock.com

If you rent a car or U-Haul or book a hotel room, 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 the amount of money that would cover a three-night stay plus incidental purchases such as treats from the room’s mini-bar.

A temporary hold temporarily reduces your available credit and thus can cause you to exceed your credit limit.

If you present your credit card at the start of a service or stay, ask whether the business will put a hold on your card and, if so, for how much. Then, mentally deduct that amount from your card’s available balance. You may also wish to carry a backup card just in case.

5. International purchases

Woman shopping in Instanbul bazaar.
Yavuz Sariyildiz / Shutterstock.com

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. So, before you leave home, call your card issuer and describe your travel plans.

Additionally, carry a backup card and a debit card to access cash at ATMs. Make sure you notify the issuers of those cards about your overseas travel plans.

6. Card expiration

A man expressing shock
Billion Photos / Shutterstock.com

If the expiration date on your card has passed, 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 to ask for one — and to make sure the issuer didn’t mail it to an outdated or otherwise incorrect address.

7. Typos

Woman looking confused
STUDIO GRAND OUEST / Shutterstock.com

Your card is valid and you’re under your spending limit, but you still 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. Attempting to enter incorrect information multiple times is a red flag, and your card might be deactivated.

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

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