8 Reasons Your Credit Card Was Declined

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  • Credit cards offer convenience and fraud protection, but if your card is declined, it can be an embarrassing hassle.
  • Your card might have been declined because it expired, you accidentally entered the wrong numbers shopping online, or you've reached your credit limit.
  • Keeping on top of your credit card accounts and indeed, your credit, can help you avoid this credit card pitfall.


Credit cards are a safe and convenient way to pay. Swipe, insert, or even tap your card -- and you're all set. But what if your card is declined? Having a cashier tell you your credit card was declined is a little embarrassing and inconvenient (especially if you don't have a back-up payment method with you and so must leave empty-handed). But it could indicate a problem with your account that you'll need to untangle, so if it happens to you, you'll want to follow up by contacting your credit card company as soon as possible. Read on to learn some reasons why your card was declined, and how you can keep it from happening in the future

1. Your card is expired

While credit card companies do their best to get in touch with consumers to keep us abreast of happenings with our accounts, sometimes you miss the envelope that has your new credit card in it, and don't happen to notice that the card in your wallet has expired. If your card isn't valid, it will be declined. Get in touch with your card issuer to ensure they can send you a new card ASAP (or go through the mail at home to find the one it already sent you). When this happened to me (while I was trying to pay to rent a moving van), thankfully I was with someone else who could hand over a credit card.

2. Your card hasn't been activated

Maybe you were in a hurry when your new credit card arrived, and you forgot to activate it with the issuer to verify its receipt. If you stick it in your wallet and later try to use it without activating it, it might be declined. Activate any new cards you receive before putting them away.

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3. You hit your credit limit

Life happens, and sometimes it's hard to keep track of all the financial numbers that make up our lives. I would argue that staying on top of your credit limit (and how much of it you've used) is extremely important. If the purchase you're trying to make will send you over that limit, your card could be declined. This is actually for the best, however, as you don't want to max out your card or spend over your limit.

4. You entered the wrong information

I think everyone has accidentally fat-fingered a credit card entry when shopping online. If you've tried to click "Buy Now" and had the transaction fail because of your credit card, it may have been because of just such an oopsie. Double check your card and try again.

5. Your account was flagged for possible fraud​​

This is a slightly more serious reason your card was declined. If you reported a card lost or stolen, then it turns up and you don't notify your card issuer, your card could be declined the next time you try to use it. Also, your credit card company is always working behind the scenes to ensure that only authorized people are using your credit card. If you're making a particularly large or unusual purchase, your card might be declined to protect you. In this instance, call your card issuer and confirm you are in fact the one making the purchase.

6. You're traveling

This is a reason for a card decline that may not apply to you, depending on the credit card in question. Some card issuers keep track of users via mobile app location or other data, so they'll know if you're out of town and you use your card. Just the same, if you're going to be traveling and using credit cards, it's a good idea to give the issuers a heads-up so you don't face having your card declined at the grocery store in the beach town you're visiting for the week (it was a headache, but the grocery staff in a tourist town knew what was up, and kindly held my groceries while I called my credit card company).

7. You're behind on payments

If you fall behind on credit card payments, your card issuer is well within its rights to restrict your card usage until you get current on payments. If this happens to you, get in touch with the company and find out how much you need to pay to get current again and be able to use your card.

8. There's a hold on your account

Finally, if you recently used your credit card to pay for a rental car or a hotel stay (or even a tank of gas), you might have a big hold on your account that's taking up your available credit. It's a good idea to ask the hotel or rental car company how much the hold will be, as well as how long it will be on your account, so you can plan to use another card in the meantime.

How to avoid being declined

Thankfully, there are a few steps you can take to avoid having your credit card declined while you're trying to use it:

  • Stay informed about your account. You should be doing this anyway, but signing into your credit card's website or mobile app can keep you informed of what's going on with your account (and also remind you of your credit limit).
  • Sign up for account alerts. If you turn these on via the website or mobile app, your card issuer will notify you if there's a problem, like possible fraudulent charges.
  • Consider turning on autopay to ensure you don't miss a payment. While you're checking the status of your account, consider setting your card up for automatic payments to ensure you don't accidentally miss one.
  • Check your credit regularly. Along with staying in the know about your individual credit card accounts, checking your credit as a whole can also help keep on top of any possible issues that could lead to having your credit card declined. You can get free weekly credit reports through 2023.

Credit cards can make your life easier, but they can also generate embarrassment at the grocery store if declined. Keep these tips in mind to avoid this scenario.

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