When a Company Blocks Your Credit or Debit Card
Has your credit or debit card been declined soon after you stayed at a hotel or rented a car? It may be that the company placed a block — or a hold — on your card for the estimated total of your bill. Merchants use blocks to make sure you have sufficient funds to pay your bill.
If you’re near your credit limit or you have a low balance in your bank account when a block is placed, your card could be declined for additional purchases. To avoid surprises at the cash register, ask your card issuer and the merchant if they use blocking.
When you use a credit or debit card to check into a hotel or rent a car, the company usually contacts your card issuer with an estimate of your bill. This reduces the amount available in your account.
For example, suppose you use your card when you check into a $100-a-night hotel for five nights. The hotel will put a hold on a least $500 and may add charges for "incidentals" — like food or beverages — to the blocked amount. If you pay your bill with the same card you used at check-in, your final charge most likely will replace the block in a day or two. But if you pay your bill with a different card — or with cash or a check — the block may last up to 15 days after you've checked out because the card issuer doesn’t know you paid another way.
How to Avoid Blocking
You can avoid the frustration that blocking can cause.
1. Ask About Blocking
When you check into a hotel or rent a car — or if a restaurant or other business asks for your card in advance of service — ask:
- if the company is blocking
- the amount to be blocked
- how the amount is determined
- how long the block lasts
2. Pay with the Same Card
Consider paying hotel, rental car, or other "blocked" bills with the same credit or debit card you used at the beginning of the transaction. Ask when the prior block will be removed.
If you pay with a different card, by cash, or by check, remind the person at the front desk that you're using a different form of payment — and ask them to remove the prior block promptly.
3. Talk to Credit or Debit Card Issuers
Whether you already have a credit or debit card or are considering getting one, it’s worth asking the issuers:
- if they permit blocks
- how long blocks lasts
- what types of merchants they allow blocks from
If you’re thinking about getting a credit or debit card, shop around. Shorter blocks may be a factor when you compare offers.
4. Talk to Your Bank
If your debit card permits blocks, you may consider getting an overdraft line of credit from your bank. Ask:
- if they offer a plan that automatically covers the overdraft
- how the plan works
- how much the plan costs
If you choose a plan that automatically covers the overdraft, you might incur some interest if you don't pay off the amount quickly. To learn more about overdraft fees and protection, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at consumerfinance.gov, or visit helpwithmybank.gov, a site maintained by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.