6 reasons why your credit card might be declined and what to do

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  • From going over your credit limit to preventing fraud, there are many reasons why a credit card may be declined.
  • If you’re shopping online, you may have entered a typo in your address or card expiration date.
  • Avoid unexpected lock-ups by monitoring your account, paying on time, and signing up for fraud alerts.

Discover your credit card won’t work because you’re trying to refuel a car or pay for a hotel stay can be a major inconvenience. This can happen for several reasons. You may have reached your credit limit. The issuing bank may fear fraud. Or the problem may be that you entered a postcode or other card information incorrectly.

But, don’t stress. “Getting your credit card declined isn’t something you should be embarrassed or ashamed of,” says Lender CEO and Founder Kristy Kim TomoCredit. “It happens to the best of us.”

Below are some of the most common reasons why a credit card may be declined, how to fix the problem, and steps you can take to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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6 of the most common reasons your credit card is declined

1. You reach your credit limit

If you are at or near your Credit limit, your card may be declined. You should be able to free up available credit by paying off your balance, but be aware that payment processing may take time. To complete the purchase, you may need to pay cash or use another payment method.

2. Your purchase triggered fraud protection

Suspicious charges are another reason banks and credit unions lock an account. This can happen with large purchases, charges from foreign countries, or any unusual account activity. If you’re planning an unusually large purchase, like a car or jewelry, let your card issuer know before you shop.

If your purchase triggered fraud protection, call the customer service number on the back of your card to validate the charges. If you receive fraud alerts on a mobile device, removing the hold can be as easy as responding to an email or text message from your card issuer.

3. You are traveling abroad

Your card may also be declined if you are traveling out of state or internationally and you did not notify your card issuer of the trip in advance. Charges from foreign countries may trigger fraud protection, which will block use of the card until you complete purchases. This helps prevent fraudulent use of a lost or stolen card and protects against identity theft.

Call your bank or credit union and let them know where you are traveling and how long the trip will take.

4. You are in arrears

Your lender may suspend your ability to charge your card if you’ve fallen behind on your payments. Return the current account to regain access to your available credit. Going forward, make sure you make at least the minimum payment on time.

5. You entered incorrect information

If you’re trying to get a cash advance at an ATM or buying something online and your card is declined, it may be due to a typo. Check that you entered the PIN correctly. If it’s an online transaction that fails, check the card number, your name and billing address, as well as the card’s expiration date and security code.

If your credit card information is saved in an app or computer browser, make sure the information is up-to-date, including the expiration date. If you recently moved, also check your billing address.

Also, if your transaction requires a PIN, be aware that too many invalid PIN attempts can result in your card being blocked, a security measure to prevent theft and fraud. If this happens, call your card issuer to unblock the card.

6. Your credit card has expired

Your card will also be declined if it is past the expiration date. Check the mail for a replacement card and be sure to activate it. If a replacement card hasn’t arrived yet, call your bank or credit union to find out when the replacement card was issued and verify that it was sent to the correct address.

How to prevent your card from being declined

To avoid having your credit card declined, know your card’s expiration date and let your credit card company know about your international travel plans. Above all, monitor your account closely by signing up for fraud alerts and other account notifications.

“Sign up with your credit card issuer to receive automated reminders when your payment is due and alerts when your balance to credit limit ratio is high so you know you’re your card limit or close to it,” says Melinda Opperman, chief external affairs officer at the nonprofit Credit.org. “This avoids being refused at the point of sale.”

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