Why was my credit card declined?

Man at a restaurant trying to pay with another card after the first got declined while wondering "Why was my credit card declined?"Image: Man at a restaurant trying to pay with another card after the first got declined while wondering "Why was my credit card declined?"

In a Nutshell

A credit card can be declined for a number of reasons, from typing in wrong information to being a victim of fraud. Learn how to prevent your card from being declined.
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If you’ve ever had your credit card declined, you’ve got some high-profile company. In September 2014, during a trip to New York City for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama went out for dinner. When the president tried to pick up the tab, his credit card was declined.

“It turned out I guess I don’t use it enough. So they thought there was some fraud going on,” the president recalled. “I was trying to explain to the waitress, no, I really think that I’ve been paying my bills.”

Yes, even the president of the United States has had his credit card declined. If it can happen to one of the most powerful people in the world, it can happen to anyone. Obama was able to laugh it off after having his wife pay the bill, but for many of us, having a credit card declined can be a serious matter.

Here are seven reasons why a card might be declined and what actions you can take to prevent credit card declines.

1. Your credit card balance is over the limit or about to go over the limit

Credit expert John Ulzheimer, president of The Ulzheimer Group, says you can’t charge more than your limit unless you’ve allowed your credit card issuer to charge over-the-limit fees. But card issuers have shifted away from over-the-limit fees. In fact, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau noted in a 2015 report that these fees are “essentially extinct.”

To prevent exceeding your credit limit, sign up for emails or text messages from your card issuer that’ll alert you when you’re nearing your limit.

Other options include …

  • Asking for a credit limit increase (though keep in mind that this could result in a hard inquiry and slightly drop your scores).
  • Monitoring your credit card account by signing into your online account or calling the issuer.
  • Setting aside an extra card for emergencies.

2. Your card is being used for an out-of-the-ordinary purchase

If an attempted purchase with your card falls outside your typical spending patterns, this may trigger the issuer to decline your card. This is designed to prevent fraud.

One time this may happen is when you’re traveling, especially if you’re in another country. If too many purchases are made in places that don’t match your normal spending activity, your card might be declined as a way to protect you from fraud.

To prevent your card from being declined when you’re away from home, notify the card issuer ahead of your trip, particularly if you’re heading to a different country.

3. Your credit card account has been closed or suspended

If your card hasn’t been used in a while, the issuer may have closed your account, prompting the card to be declined, says Ulzheimer. It may take months or even years of not using your card for the issuer to shut your account. You can contact the card issuer to see whether your account can be reactivated.

To avoid having your card being canceled due to inactivity, try to make a purchase with your card from time to time, and pay the entire balance when the bill arrives.

Another reason a card issuer may have suspended your account, according to Ulzheimer, is if you’re behind on paying your credit card bill. In this instance, you’ll need to catch up on your payments, he says. Then the issuer might reinstate your account.

4. Your credit card may have been used fraudulently

When a card issuer thinks a fraudster has used your card, it’ll normally freeze your account, meaning no transactions — authorized or unauthorized — can go through. The issuer will typically notify you about the suspicious activity, launch an investigation and issue a replacement card.

In many cases, a credit card provider won’t hold you responsible for a single penny when an unauthorized charge is made.

5. You’re trying to make a big purchase

You’ve been eyeing a 65-inch, flat screen TV. After months of shopping around, you finally decide to take the plunge and buy it. But the credit card you’re using for the purchase has been declined.

The issuer of the credit card may have flagged the purchase because of the high price tag. A large purchase, such as a sofa, diamond ring or major appliance, might be declined until the card issuer can ensure that you’re the one who’s actually buying the expensive item.

6. Your credit card has expired

When your credit card’s expiration date has passed, the card no longer will work.

If you’ve already received a card with a fresh expiration date, simply replace the old one with the new card. (You may need to activate the new card before using it.) If you haven’t received a replacement card, you should contact the card issuer right away to make sure it hasn’t been lost or stolen.

7. You’ve incorrectly entered your information

When your fingers are flying across a keyboard or tapping on a phone screen, it’s easy to make mistakes. That’s certainly true when you’re entering information for an online credit card purchase. Perhaps the card number is off by one number, or maybe you’ve mistyped your address or birthdate.

Whatever the case, incorrect information could lead to your credit card being declined. Fortunately, the fix is simple: Either plug in the correct data, or be sure to update automatically stored data.

Bottom line

A credit card can be declined for a variety of reasons. But whatever the reason, it’s wise to contact your card issuer as soon as it happens to get to the bottom of it. A quick phone call may do the trick; you can usually find a toll-free customer service phone number on the back of your card. In other cases, it may take much more time to resolve the situation. Make sure your card issuer has your most recent contact information in case an issue arises, such as suspected fraud.

About the author: John Egan is a blogger, content marketer and freelance writer in Austin, Texas. He is former editor in chief at Austin-based startup LawnStarter, and he previously worked at the Austin Business Journal, Bankrate and S… Read more.