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Why Isn’t My Credit Card Working?

Last Updated: February 13, 2023
3 min read

Key points about: credit cards not working

  1. The first step to figuring out why your credit card isn’t working is making sure that nothing is physically wrong with the card.

  2. If you’re paying on a reader that requires a magnetic strip, the payment may decline because the strip malfunctioned.

  3. If there’s nothing physically wrong with your card, the issue may be with your account.

You tap, insert, or swipe your credit card as you’ve done so many times before—but, for some reason, your credit card is not working. You hand the card over to the cashier to try, and they have no luck processing your payment either. Have you ever encountered this problem and wondered why your credit card won’t work? You know your account is in good standing, and maybe the card even looks fine. So why does the credit card you’ve used for a while suddenly refuse to cooperate?

Consider these potential causes for why your credit card won’t work:

Possible reasons why your credit card isn’t working

1. The terminal can’t read your card

Your card’s chip or strip gets a little dirtier with every surface it encounters; eventually the buildup of grime may mean your credit card can’t be read by the payment terminal. If after wiping your card down it still won’t work, it may be a good idea to reach out to your card issuer to get a replacement card. In the meantime, if your card issuer allows it, you can use your card via mobile wallets and/or tap to pay.

2. Your purse or wallet uses a magnet.

Did you know?

If you’re paying somewhere that requires you to swipe your card and the card doesn’t work, it may be because the magnetic strip has been damaged by a magnet. The strip on the back of your credit card, and the information it contains about your account, uses magnetic particles in its swipe functionality. Contact with magnets can essentially scramble the data on a card’s magnetic strip. Once that happens, point-of-sale terminals can’t “read” the card, resulting in your credit card not working.

You may not see magnets in your purse or wallet, but they’re a common design feature used to facilitate opening and closing. Your card’s swiping ability could be compromised if your purse or wallet uses magnets and your card’s strip comes close enough to them for an extended time.

3. You scratched or disfigured the strip

Carrying your credit card in your pocket with keys or coins can scratch the card’s magnetic strip, making the swipe feature unusable. Likewise, your credit card won’t swipe if the strip becomes bent or cracked to the extent that the data on the strip becomes distorted. If you notice that your card has been scratched, bent, or cracked causing it to not be usable, it’s a good idea to reach out to your card issuer and ask them to send you a new card.

4. You need to use the chip first.

Chip cards have been rolled out by credit card issuers and banks in order to enhance payment security, and when you try to swipe these cards at terminals that are fully enabled for chip cards, otherwise known as EMV, the terminal will prompt you to insert your card with the chip facing up and the chip going in first into the terminal instead. Cards with chip-and-PIN and near-field (NFC) technology typically aren’t vulnerable to magnetism the same way magnetic stripes are.

5. A problem with your account is causing your card to be declined

It may be that your card is working fine and transmitting your information, but the credit card issuer is declining the transaction. There are many reasons why your credit card may be declined, from a transaction that goes over your credit limit to purchases in a location where you don’t normally shop. If the credit card issuer has declined a transaction, it’s a good idea to call the number on the back of your card and find out why.

The bottom line: If your credit card is not working, contact your card issuer for a replacement card. You may also want to consider a contactless card or using mobile payments.

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