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Why Was My Credit Card Declined? — Reasons & How to Stop It

Your transaction seems to be taking forever to process as the line at the register grows behind you. The terminal emits a loud beep and that dreaded word, “declined,” appears on the screen.  

You feel like everyone is staring at you, including the cashier, as you hastily log into your banking app to check your available credit. 

As you fumble with your phone, you close your eyes and purse your lips. You think: “Why is my credit card being declined right now, and is there something I could have done to stop it?”

Reasons Your Credit Card May Have Been Declined — & How to Stop It From Happening

Your card can be declined for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, most of them are (at least, partially) your fault. But there’s a silver lining: It’s in your power to prevent credit card declines too. You just have to understand why they happen and how to stop them.

Insufficient Funds

Some credit card companies accept transactions that put your card over its credit limit. That forces you to pay an over-the-limit fee on your next bill but allows your purchase to go through. Unfortunately, if you exceed the limit too many times or the transaction would put you hundreds of dollars over the limit, the credit card issuer may decline the transaction. 

To avoid insufficient funds declines, track your running credit card balance throughout the month. If you pay off your bill in full when it comes due, you don’t pay finance charges and also start with a clean slate each month. 

If you plan to make a big-ticket purchase that will exceed your credit limit, you can request a credit limit increase. If you have a good credit score and have made all your payments on time, you have a solid chance of getting it. 

Suspicious Activity

Today’s banks and credit card companies have extensive fraud detection technology to protect your hard-earned money and your credit score. But sometimes, these robust systems mistakenly flag legitimate transactions. 

For instance, Chase Bank once declined my $300 Target purchase. The problem? I live on Long Island and was shopping in a New Jersey mall on a weekday, which deviates from my normal spending habits. 

You can avoid having your account flagged for suspicious activity by calling your credit card provider and letting them know if you plan to travel or make a large purchase that would seem unusual based on your typical behavior. 

Also, if you receive a text alert, email, or push notification from the credit card company, respond promptly. The bank may be asking you to verify you authorized the transaction before declining it. 

Late Payments

If you’ve missed a credit card payment, your credit card company might decline your next transaction even if it’s within your credit limit. 

To avoid this problem, set up automatic payments to be deducted from your checking account on the same day every month. Making payments on time also avoids late fees and potentially boosts your credit score.  

Expiration Date

Credit cards have an expiration date, which you can find printed on the front of the card, though some modern cards have it on the back. Your card expires on the last day of the month and year printed on the card. For instance, if your card’s expiration date reads 12/23, you can use the card through Dec. 31, 2023. Most credit cards expire three to five years after the issue date. 

Keep an eye on your cards’ expiration dates. Stores decline expired cards in person and online. If your card is about to expire, keep checking the mail for a new card. 

For security, most credit cards come in plain white envelopes without the bank’s name or any indication of what’s inside. It can be easy to miss your new card if you aren’t looking for it. 

When you receive your card, promptly activate it by calling the number on the sticker or using the app associated with your account. 

If you have your credit card number stored in online accounts to pay bills or make purchases, you must update the expiration date once you receive your new card. Otherwise, those retailers will decline your transaction. 

Typos in Your Account Information

This is definitely one of those head-desk moments. You find that perfect pair of sneakers you want on a new website. You grab your credit card or generate a virtual card number through your credit card app. You’re so excited about your find that you accidentally type the account number wrong. 

To avoid such a scenario, store your cards in Google Wallet or Apple Pay and select that as a form of payment. Or you can copy and paste your virtual card number from the app to avoid typos. 

Other times, the decline happens because the billing address you entered doesn’t match the one on file with your credit card company. Have you moved since you opened the card? Take a look at your account and ensure you use the right address. 

If you’re sure all your information is correct and the transaction still doesn’t go through, call your credit card company or the merchant to help. 

Technical Issues

Earlier this year, Discover reported unidentified “technical issues” causing some customers to have their cards declined for no reason. That same day, the website Downdetector also reported problems with Visa, Mastercard, and Chase card payments as well as the Square payment platform. 

The companies fixed the problems quickly. So if you’ve investigated every other possibility and your card still gets declined, reach out to your bank or credit card company. It may not be your fault after all. 

Final Word 

As technology advances, so does our ability to avert credit card declines.  

Set up account alerts so you can keep tabs on your credit limit, available credit, and due dates for your credit cards. That way, you know you’ve done everything in your power to prevent your card from being declined. 

Most important, don’t let it ruin your day if a retailer declines your card. Always have an alternate form of payment, such as another credit or debit card, handy so you can whip out another card, digital wallet, or even cash to complete the transaction. 

Dawn Allcot is a freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, technology, and travel. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include TheStreet, Chase Bank, Forbes, and MSN. She is the founder and owner of Allcot Media Marketing and GeekTravelGuide, where she shares her love for roller coasters, family travel, healthy living and keto foods.