Restaurant customer holds credit card reader in his hands to pay his bill.

Why Was My Credit Card Declined?

Last Updated: August 31, 2022
3 min read

Why Your Credit Card Was Declined

  1. If you reach your credit limit or it’s been decreased, purchases may result in your card being declined.

  2. Making a large purchase may appear suspicious to your credit card company, prompting them to decline the transaction.

  3. Travelling without notifying your credit card issuers may result in your card being declined or a having a hold placed on your account.

It can be a bad feeling when you go to use your credit card, like you always do, and suddenly it’s declined or not working. What happened?

Here are some common (and not so common) reasons your Discover card – or whatever card you happen to use – may get declined when you try to use it to make a purchase, and what to do about it.

You’ve reached your credit card limit

If your balance creeps up toward your credit card limit and you try to buy something that will cause your balance to exceed your limit, your credit card may get declined. Some credit card companies send email or text notices to let you know when your balance is approaching your limit, so keep an eye out if you’re concerned. It may be a good idea to get into the habit of regularly checking your credit card balance, so that you know how much available credit you have to use on purchases.

A suspicious purchase on your card

Using your credit card to pay for purchases in-store and online establishes your spending patterns. If you make a purchase with your card that doesn’t fit this pattern, it may result in your credit card being declined until you verify that it is you, the cardholder, making the purchase.

Traveling without notifying your credit card company

Multiple purchases in one day from various locations raises a red flag for credit card companies, as this can be a sign of fraudulent activity. Don’t be surprised if your card isn’t accepted when you try to use it to pay for gas or snacks as you move along your route. You can potentially avoid this issue by letting your credit card issuer know ahead of time that you will be traveling, especially internationally.

A recent “hold” on your card

Did your recent travels involve staying at a hotel or using a rental car company? If so, these businesses may have placed a hold on your card to cover potential costs related to your stay or rental. If your balance plus the hold amount approaches your card limit, subsequent purchases could get declined until the business removes the hold.

Exposure to potential fraud

Sometimes credit card companies decline a purchase on your card that appears to be suspicious. This happens when your card becomes exposed to potentially fraudulent activity either in-store or online. To prevent unauthorized purchases, the company may freeze your account.

A card limit decrease

Sometimes credit card companies initiate a card limit decrease and then provide you with notice of the new credit line. Your credit card could be refused if you attempt to make a purchase that pushes your balance over the new, lower limit.

Attempting a large purchase

Are you planning to make a particularly large purchase on your credit card (think big screen TVs, appliances or furniture)? If you don’t typically use your card to buy larger ticket items, your credit card may get declined until you verify that it’s you making the purchase. This may also happen if you make several “luxury goods” purchases that don’t fit your typical spending pattern.

What to do when your credit card gets declined

If your card gets declined, call your credit card company immediately. Most cards will have a contact number on the back of the card. Expect to answer a few security questions to verify your identity. Then explain where you are, what you’re trying to purchase and ask why your card was declined.

Sometimes, simply verifying your identity is enough for the credit card company to authorize the transaction. Other cases may require following up with customer service to request a credit card limit increase if you are trying to make a purchase that puts your account over the credit limit.

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