Why Do Cards Get Declined Sometimes?

by Craig Berman
Your credit card can be declined for a variety of reasons.

Getting your credit card declined can be a mortifying experience, but it isn’t always your fault. While cards often are declined for high balances or unpaid bills, it might also be the act of a well-intentioned fraud protection specialist or the result of an unseen hold on the account. Knowing what causes a card to get declined might not make it less embarrassing when it occurs, but at least you'll have a better explanation for it.

Money Management

The most obvious reasons a card would be declined is that you’re already at or over your credit limit, or you’re late on your bills. While keeping track of spending can help, it’s also easy for travelers to reach their credit limit unknowingly. Checking into a hotel and renting a car both can cause extended holds to be put on your card as the companies look to protect their interests. If that’s the case, the holds might put you near your limit even if the actual expenditures won’t be that bad. Banks deny use of the card for unpaid bills as well. The level of tardiness they are willing to tolerate depends on variables like your payment history and the size of your balance.

User Error

If you’re making a purchase over the phone, by mail or online, enter the information correctly or your card may be declined. Double-check the credit card number and expiration date, but also note what else is being asked. If you skim over the part about what to do If the billing address and shipping address is different, and you click the wrong button or have a typo in the address, that could cause the card to be declined. Your card also might be declined if it has expired and you haven’t noticed or threw out the replacement card thinking it was junk mail.

Location Information

Particularly if you’ve had your credit card a long time, the issuing company knows your spending patterns. If there’s a significant deviation in your usage, a credit card company may suspend charging privileges until it can get in touch with you and confirm that you're the one making the purchases. One common trigger for this is overseas use. If you’ve never used your credit card outside of the East Coast and are suddenly making a lot of expensive purchases in Europe, your company may assume that the card or its information has been stolen. It’s smart to call your credit card company and alert them in advance if you’ll be traveling somewhere unexpected; they can note that on your account and your purchases will be more likely to go through.

Fraud Protection

Overseas spending isn’t the only trigger for the credit card fraud protection folks. Certain items are associated with credit card fraud enough that it can cause the company to decline the purchase because of those concerns. Expensive electronics and jewelry are among these items. If you have an unusually high number of transactions in one day, your credit card company may decline a transaction, viewing it as a sign of suspicious activity. The card also may be declined if the credit card company learns that your information may have been compromised, like if a hacker acquires credit card numbers. The company may deactivate your card and send you a new one instead, but if you try to use the old card in the meantime it will be declined.

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