Here’s why your credit card was declined

Having your credit card declined is a cringe-worthy moment we’d all prefer to avoid. And there are a number of ways you can trigger a rejection.

Fortunately, it’s easy to sidestep these deflating episodes 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 why 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 decide to book a last-minute flight to New York, you may need to tell your credit company that you’re going abroad. If not, you might find that your issuer’s anti-fraud measures prevent you from using your 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.

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 jewellery 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, an expert on credit.

That’s not to say these indulgences are off-limits to your credit card. You can still splurge on that diamond necklace – but you may want to call your credit card company and notify it of your purchase.

Compare rewards credit cards and get rewarded for your purchases.

You’ve reached your credit limit

Your credit limit caps your spending on your credit card. Once you reach it, you’re cut off.

Track your spending and try capping it to below 30 percent of your credit limit to ensure you don’t exceed it. Repeatedly going up to your credit limit could hurt your credit score. Read our guide on how to improve your credit score.

To keep your credit card in play once you’ve reached the limit, pay off the 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

In your haste to purchase that dream espresso machine online, you may have mistyped your credit card number, expiration date or security code. Or perhaps you used an outdated billing address, which can also lead to a declined transaction. If you’re making an online purchase, give your information a quick second glance.

If you make this mistake just once, it won’t freeze your account. “It will just restrict this purchase,” says Sherry. 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 been too busy to realise 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 spottier your history, the shorter 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,” says Ulzheimer. “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.”

A credit card is one tool that can help you build your credit history. Compare credit cards for bad credit.

Your credit report has taken a hit

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, says Ulzheimer.

“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, says Ulzheimer.

Generally, a credit card company should give you a 30-day notice period before they change your terms – and if you disagree with the new terms, you can close down your account.

Your card has expired

When life gets hectic, you may forget 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, says Ulzheimer.

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 petrol 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, senior vice president of community outreach and industry relations at Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management. Both of these activities put a hold on a certain portion of a card’s limit.

Travelling and using only one card for your entire vacation can be problematic, especially if you could easily reach your 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 travellers to take two credit cards, and switch between them for hotels, rental car check-ins, dining and other expenses. If you don’t have one yet, consider getting a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

Another user deactivated your card

If you’re an additional cardholder, it’s possible that your card was declined because the primary cardholder made a change to the account without telling you. For example, if the primary cardholder reported a lost or stolen card, the card issuer would typically deactivate all cards under that account while it sends a new one, says Opperman.

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 authorised 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.