6 reasons your credit card may be declined and what to do about it

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Discovering your credit card won’t work as you’re trying to gas up a car or pay for a hotel stay can be a major inconvenience. It can happen for a number of reasons. You may have reached your credit limit. The issuing bank may be worried about fraud. Or the problem may be that you’ve incorrectly entered a ZIP code or other card-related information.

But, don’t stress. “Having your credit card denied isn’t something to be embarrassed or ashamed about,” says Kristy Kim, CEO and founder of lender TomoCredit. “It happens to the best of us.”

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

6 of the most common reasons your credit card is declined

1. You hit your credit limit 

If you’re at or near your credit limit, your card may be declined. You should be able to free up available credit by paying down your balance, but be aware that payments can take time to process. To complete the purchase, you may need to pay in cash or use a different form of payment.

2. Your purchase triggered fraud protection 

Suspicious charges are another reason banks and credit unions will lock down 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, notify your card issuer before you shop. 

If your purchase has 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, clearing the hold may be as simple as replying to an email or text from your card issuer. 

3. You’re traveling internationally

Your card may also be declined if you’re traveling out of state or internationally and did not make your card issuer aware of the trip in advance. Charges from foreign countries can trigger fraud protection, which will block use of the card until you validate the 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’re traveling and the length of the trip.

4. You’re behind on payments

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

5. You entered incorrect information

If you’re attempting to get a cash advance at an ATM or buy something online and your card is declined, it may be because of a typo. Double check that you’ve correctly entered the PIN. If it’s an online transaction that won’t go through, double check the card number, your name and billing address, and the card’s expiration date and security code.

If your credit-card information is saved to an app or computer browser, make sure the information is current, including the expiration date. If you’ve moved recently, also check your billing address.Also, if your transaction requires a PIN, be aware that making too many invalid PIN attempts can cause your card to be blocked, a safety precaution to prevent theft and fraud. If this happens, call your card issuer to unblock the card.

6. Your credit card is expired

Your card will also be declined if it’s past the expiration date. Check the mail for a replacement card, and be sure to activate it. If a replacement hasn’t yet arrived, 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 prevent your credit card from being declined, know your card’s expiration date and notify your credit card company of 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 for automated reminders of when your payment is due, and alerts for when your balance-to-credit limit ratio is high so you know you are at or near your card’s limit,” says Melinda Opperman, chief external affairs officer at the nonprofit organization Credit.org. “This helps to avoid being declined at the point of sale.”

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