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When a Company Declines Your Credit or Debit Card

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Some banks or credit unions use blocking — putting a hold on a portion of your available credit on your credit card. That means you have less to use until the block clears. If they block your debit card, your account balance may get low, you may bounce a check, or a recurring payment you authorized may be declined.

Why was my credit or debit card declined?

Your card may be declined for a number of reasons: the card has expired; you are over your credit limit; the card issuer sees suspicious activity that could be a sign of fraud; or a hotel, rental car company,or other business placed a block (or hold) on your card for the estimated total of your bill.

What should I do if my card is declined?

First, check that you entered your information accurately. If there’s still a problem, contact the customer service number for the bank or credit union that gave you the card. They may be able to tell you what the issue is and how to fix it. Try to have another form of payment available in case it takes time to resolve any issues with your card.

Can I reduce the chances that my card will be declined?

Keeping track of your account can help. For instance, your bank or credit union will send you a replacement card before the card expires. Always activate it soon after you get it. If the card is getting close to the expiration date, and you haven’t gotten your replacement, call your bank or credit union to track it down.

Monitor your accounts regularly to keep track of spending, your account balance, or how close you are to your card’s credit limit — the maximum amount of credit you’re approved for. If the balance on your debit card is too low, or you get close to or go over your credit card’s credit limit, your card may be declined.

Some banks or credit unions offer alerts to flag fraud on your account. Sign up for these alerts so you know if there’s a problem before your card is declined. Large purchases, charges from sellers in foreign countries, or activity that seems unusual may trigger the bank or credit union to lock down your account to avoid fraud. Before traveling, contact your bank or credit union to let them know you’ll be out of town. Do the same if you’re going to use your card for a large or unusual purchase. Even if you do these things, it’s possible your card could be declined because of a block or hold on it. You may want to carry an extra card as a back-up in case the first card is declined.

What can I do to avoid blocking?

Merchants use blocks to make sure you have enough money to pay your bill. This reduces the amount of credit or cash available in your account. 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 if you want to use it for something else before the block is lifted. You can take some steps to reduce the inconvenience.

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 ahead of time, ask:

  • Are you putting a block on my card?
  • What’s the amount of the block?
  • How did you choose that amount?
  • How long does the block last?

2. Reduce the time your card is blocked. If you pay a “blocked” bill with the same card you used to make the reservation or book the service, it can help. (Think hotels and rental cars, for example.) Paying your bill with that same card means your final charge will most likely replace the block in a day or two. But if you pay that bill with a different card — or with cash or a check — the block may last up to 15 days. That’s because the card issuer doesn’t know you paid another way.

To know where you stand, take these steps:

  • When you pay your final bill or check out, ask when the prior block will be removed.
  • If you pay with a different card, cash, or check, remind the person at the front desk that you're using a different form of payment. Ask to have the prior block removed promptly.

3. Talk to your bank or credit union. Whether you already have a credit or debit card, or you’re considering getting one, it’s worth asking the bank or credit union:

  • Do you let businesses place blocks?
  • How long do blocks last?
  • What types of businesses do you let place blocks? If you’re thinking about getting a credit or debit card, shop around. Shorter blocks may be a factor when you compare offers.

For debit cards, you may consider getting an overdraft line of credit from your bank or credit union. This is a kind of loan attached to your checking account. If your account balance gets low, the overdraft line of credit will help you avoid bouncing checks or having your debit card declined.

Ask:

  • Do you offer a plan that automatically covers the overdraft?
  • How does the plan work?
  • How much does the plan cost? If you choose a plan that automatically covers the overdraft, you might end up paying a fee if you don't pay off the amount quickly, and interest on the loan until you repay it. To learn more about overdraft fees and protection, read the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Advisory about overdrafts, or visit HelpWithMyBank.gov, a site maintained by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.