7 Reasons Your Card Will Be Declined (and How to Avoid It)

Used to be, exceeding your limit or spacing out your bill were about the only ways your plastic would be rejected. Not anymore.

“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 since I’d already used the card at that same location, it suspected fraud. But that’s just one reason why your credit card might be declined.

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 spending limit. Here are seven other reasons that aren’t as well-known.

1. Unusual activity

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

If you usually use your credit card once a week and then 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 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 clear up the whole mess before leaving the checkout counter if the bank can reach you.

2. Over the daily spending limit

Surprised woman in store.Nicoleta Ionescu / Shutterstock.com

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 Outdated personal information

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 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

Roadblock ahead written on road.gorstevanovic / Shutterstock.com

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 incidental purchases such as treats from the room’s 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

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.

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

A man expressing shockBillion Photos / Shutterstock.com

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

Woman looking confusedSTUDIO GRAND OUEST / Shutterstock.com

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 .

Angela Colley
Angela Colley
My personal tag line might be, “There is probably a coupon for that.” At a young age, I mistook my parent’s coupon clipping for a game and I wanted to treasure hunt ... More

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