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Yikes! Your card was declined

By Janna Herron ·
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Posted: 4 pm ET

Getting your credit card declined causes the reddest faces, according to a new survey released Wednesday. found that Americans named that financial embarrassment as the most awkward to handle. It beat out getting pressure to give money to charity on behalf of someone you know, refusing to give cash to a panhandler or splitting the bill with other diners.

No one wants to be with a large group of people at a fancy restaurant and the waiter comes back, credit card in hand, and whispers in your ear that your card was decline. No one needs to be within earshot to know what's happening.

To prevent such an embarrassment means to practice sound credit card habits, such as paying off your entire bill every month (and on time) and keeping balances low. The rule of thumb to help boost your credit score the most is use less than 10 percent of the total credit line.

Of course, there are other reasons why your credit card might be declined besides hitting the limit.

If you're traveling overseas, an issuer may keep a transaction from going through if you don't travel often. Foreign purchases are 10 times more likely to be fraudulent than domestic ones, says Mike Urban, FICO's fraud chief.

"Issuers are much more likely to deny a transaction coming from another country because of the level of risk," he told me in a previous interview on credit card fraud. He recommends telling your issuer about your travel plans ahead of time.

Even a purchase outside your typical spending habits could trigger a decline. If you use your credit card for mostly gas and groceries, and then one day buy some jewelry, expensive electronics and designer clothes within a short time period, the issuer may place a security hold on the card until it can verify that you're making the purchases.

Always carry another form of payment (or another credit card) to avoid getting into a bind.

The online survey polled 2,415 U.S. adults over 18 years from June 4-6. offers online coupon codes, printable coupons and more on its website.

Have you ever been declined? How did you handle it?

Follow me on Twitter: @JannaHerron.

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Diane M
June 29, 2012 at 11:26 am

Debit cards are a definite no-no in my book. From I have read on the internet, they are ripped off the most and you are LIBEL for the purchase amount and your bank account can be drained. We have had one credit card account stolen three times (not the actual card),and I have to say Chase was right on it. They put a hold on the account immediately, and then when we went to use our card we had to call the issuer. Discover was also good. My husband made a large purchase (at least for us) for my Christmas gift. Discover called us on Christmas morning to verify the purchase. Our credit cards are paid online directly to the issuer, and I check the account at least every other day.

June 29, 2012 at 10:38 am

First, I would question the practices and policies of your bank; to let such large amount through without question is questionable at best. Second, you do have certain protections from fraud, the bigger question is whether or not it is simply fraud or I.D. theft. If I.D. theft, you need to take action to mitigate your losses as soon as possible. If it is fraud against one account, then get it shut down and file th appropriate paperwork with you financial institution of card issuer.

If you are planning on traveling, whether it be domestic or international, be sure to contact your card issuers and let them know. Be specific about where you are giong to be and you should have very little trouble with your cards. the Transaction may be slightly delayed because they are verifying your location, but when they review your account and see that you are going to be in Rome, then the request from a Roman merchant will be authorized.

If you are planning to use your debit card, talk to your bank about opening up a completely new account with a separate debit card for travel. Do not tie this new account to your other accounts, i.e. savings for overdraft. this will ensure that if the car is compromised, it is limited to just the cash you have in that account.

June 29, 2012 at 9:22 am

Iwas just a victim of ID theft and wish that flags had gone off not did bank issue 1 card 6000. but again 3months later for 5000. used 11000. in 3 months i just found out they used gas fast food motels cash if anyone has any suggestions if this is banks fought please let me know

danny drummond
June 29, 2012 at 8:55 am

They do also decline debit cards for the same reasons.

June 29, 2012 at 6:24 am

If convinient is sought, why not use a debit card? It protects you from spending on what you can't afford and teaches you to live within your means.

Dave Z
June 29, 2012 at 6:01 am

Dear Janna,
Just returned from a wonderful pilgrimage to Italy and, although we notified our companies ahead of time, those cards we wanted to use with no international fees but which had lower credit limits denied our purchases over 100 Euros. So we had to use our cards with a higher credit limit but also with a %2-3% transaction fee. We tried calling their international phone numbers but had little success so we felt it was a bit out of our control.
Like you said, you'll need a higher credit limit, or make smaller purchases.

June 28, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Dear Bank Rate,

I really like your web site. Hope you're doing well.

June 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm

At the Paris Flea Market with my slightly hard-of-hearing husband, I excused myself to go to the ladies room. I returned to see he had found a silver tea-service he just had to have. $2,500 he tells me. I am outraged at so much money for a tea set even if it was owned by, as my husband said, by Napoleon's - like he had neighbors! Not just the price was too high for me but having to shlug it all over two continents ws too hard . Seller comes back and says to me, in French, that the American Express card was denied for that much money. I agreed to go with the woman to talk to the Amex people and okay the purchase. "Yes," she tells me in French, "they say they will not approve the $25,000." "Twenty-five thousand?" I repeated dully. "Oui," she said.

How I handled it was to say, with my smile stifled and relief flooding my heart, "c'est domage." I took the credit card happily from her hand and ran for my life. Thank you American Express for not approving. and saving us from being financially flayed. How did you know my husband misunderstood the price?

Janna H
June 22, 2012 at 9:58 am

@Ray: Interesting story and great advice! Thanks for sharing.

June 22, 2012 at 8:50 am

Declined by Chase at a Safeway when (out of state) trying to fill a ski condo of 9 with food and liquor for a 5 day stay (about a $300 tab. Not my normal spending pattern). To be precise, the food cart was approved (first about $150). Then when the liquor cart tab was presented, it was declined (about another $150). I used another card. When I phoned Chase and screamed at them they told me the card was "not declined", but that I should have called them (yeah, right, from the checkout line of a grocery store...). Anyway, since then I always provide travel alerts to 2 credit card companies when traveling and always carry at least 2 credit cards.