It happens to even the most financially astute: A credit card transaction is declined for no apparent reason. Such an embarrassing rejection can be triggered in a number of ways.
Fortunately, you can sidestep these deflating moments by following some practical tips. Here are nine reasons your credit card issuer would freeze you out, and what you can do to prevent these blunders in the future.
Top reasons credit cards are declined
- You are making an international purchase
- Your purchase triggered fraud protection
- You’ve reached your credit limit
- Info you entered doesn’t match records
- You’ve missed credit card payments
- Your credit report has taken a hit
- Your card has expired
- You forget to pay attention on a trip
- Another user deactivated your card
You are making an international purchase
If you book a last-minute flight to Paris, be sure to let your credit card company know of your plans. If you don’t, your attempt to purchase merchandise abroad could result in the suspension of your credit card.
“We recommend that customers alert us of their plans to travel internationally, and we will take that into account when monitoring for potential fraud,” says Betty Riess, a spokeswoman for Bank of America. Customers can notify the company via its mobile banking app or online banking, she adds.
Even an online purchase from a foreign country could raise an alert and stall your credit card, says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action.
Let’s say you’re sitting in your own home office, browsing the internet for a gift. You find the perfect item — a designer scarf. But if that online merchant is based in a foreign country, your activity will be registered as a purchase abroad, and once again, your credit card may not work.
Credit card companies track their customers’ card activity. A quick call to your issuer, alerting it to international purchases or travel, can clear the air.
Your purchase triggered fraud protection
Besides international purchases, certain “suspicious” activity can lock down your credit card. Purchasing items such as large electronics or jewelry may raise an alert.
“Credit card issuers lose millions to fraud every year, so they’re very sensitive when your spending pattern changes,” says John Ulzheimer, a nationally recognized credit expert.
That’s not to say these indulgences are off-limits to your credit card. You can still splurge on that diamond necklace — just call your credit card company and notify it of your purchase.
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You’ve reached your credit limit
Your credit limit caps your spending on your credit card. Once you reach it, you’re cut off.
Try to cap your credit card purchases to below 30 percent of your credit limit. Repeatedly going up to your credit limit could hurt your credit score. You can check your credit report and score for free on Bankrate.
To keep your credit card in play once you’ve reached the limit, pay down your balance or request an increase to your credit limit.
Some credit cards also have per-day spending limits. To avoid freezes to your credit card, find out your daily maximum, and keep your purchases in line.
Info you entered doesn’t match records
When you placed an online order for those new golf clubs, you may have mistyped your credit card number, expiration date or security code. Or perhaps you overlooked an outdated billing address, which can also lead to a declined transaction. If you’re making an online purchase, give your information thorough scrutiny — twice.
If you make this mistake just once, it won’t freeze your account. “It will just restrict this purchase,” Sherry says. But if you mess up your entry numerous times, “it might get rejected and go back to the credit card company, and it will freeze the account.” This is all part of how credit card companies aim to stop fraud.
Sometimes the information doesn’t match because you’ve changed addresses. Call your credit card company to verify your information. A mismatch can cause a hiccup in all purchases that require an address. Avoid future inconveniences by updating your profile with your new information whenever there’s a change.
You’ve missed credit card payments
This is an obvious one, but if you’ve fallen behind on payments, you must get caught up before your card will work again.
The number of cycles you can go past due before your issuer shuts you down varies by credit card and by your history. As a general rule of thumb, the better your payment history, the longer your leash.
“If you have a pretty decent history with the issuer, they may actually allow you to go a whole cycle past due before they shut you down,” Ulzheimer says. “If you have a spotty history — meaning you miss payments all the time — you’ll already be on a short leash, and they won’t let you go past one cycle.”
Your credit report has taken a hit
You may have routinely paid one credit issuer promptly, but good standing with one credit card is not enough. Behind the scenes, issuers check in on your credit to see how you are performing in other parts of your credit life, Ulzheimer says.
“They’re looking at your credit report to see if there’s anything on the report that they feel makes you an unacceptable credit risk,” he says.
So even if you’re current on one card’s payments, your standing with that card could suffer if a new collection hits your credit report or you default on another credit card.
While the Credit Card Act of 2009 placed some limits on how credit card companies can react to changes in your credit report, they can still pull your information from credit agencies as often as they like, and based on what they see, they can “determine if they still want to do business with you under those same terms” you signed up with, Ulzheimer says.
If you’re a risky customer and your card issuer wants to make changes to your terms, such as your interest rate, it must provide a 45-day notice.
“If your credit history has declined, then your (credit) limit may be reduced,” says Nessa Feddis, senior vice president at the American Bankers Association.
Your card has expired
Maybe you forgot to check the expiration date on your credit card. Or maybe you overlooked the new credit card sitting in that pile of mail you need to get through.
Keep an eye out for your new credit card about three to six months in advance of your expiration date because by then, the issuer has made the decision of whether or not it wants to renew your account, Ulzheimer says.
If you can’t find your new card, call your credit card company to make sure nobody is racking up fraudulent charges.
If your credit card company decided not to issue you a new card, you’ll get a letter that explains your options for paying off your remaining balance.
You forget to pay attention on a trip
Have you ever paid for gas at the pump with a credit card and noticed there’s a hold on your account for an amount much larger than what it cost to fill up? That reminder should be a red flag for your wallet.
Your card can be declined if you have a pending hold on your account. “This often happens when people are on vacation and they’ve done two things within moments of each other: They’ve gotten a rental car … and then they’ve just checked in to a hotel,” says Melinda Opperman, executive vice president of community outreach and industry relations at credit.org. Both of these activities put a hold on a certain portion of a card’s limit.
It’s a mistake to travel with just one credit card, especially if you’re close to your credit limit. One or two big purchases or holds, and your card will be declined.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of that, and they’re caught off guard,” says Opperman. “It can take several days for the hold to be released,” which is why Opperman advises travelers to take two credit cards. Switch off between them for hotels, rental car check-ins, dining and other expenses while you’re away.
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Another user deactivated your card
If the primary cardholder made changes to the account without an authorized user’s knowledge, the user’s card could be declined. The cardholder may have reported his card lost or stolen, in which case the card issuer would typically deactivate all cards under that account while it sends a new one, Opperman says.
Passing along information about changes to your card’s status is essential when sharing a credit card with others, especially if you’re the primary cardholder making decisions that affect other users. Opperman says that sometimes primary cardholders fail to relay important decisions.
“Sometimes these authorized users will try to use their card, and then they’ll find out, ‘Oh my gosh, the cardholder removed me, or the card was deactivated and they didn’t inform me.’” Like in any relationship, communication is key.