What to do if your credit card gets declined

It can be embarrassing, but it’s not necessarily your fault. (iStock)

Credit cards work on revolving credit, which means you have a credit line with a limit on how much you can spend. As you pay off some or all of your balance, that credit is available to use again.

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When you see a character’s credit card declined in a movie or TV show, it’s typically because the card has been maxed out. But there are several other reasons your credit card issuer may choose to decline a transaction.

Here are some credit card basics you should know if the situation happens to you.

Knowing the reason for your credit card being declined can help you determine the next steps and how long it will take before you can use the account again. Here are some potential reasons your credit card was declined.

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Why your credit card was likely declined

Card limit

You’ve reached your credit limit. It’s important to keep an eye on your credit card account to avoid this, but it can still happen, especially if you have a low credit limit. If this happens, pay down your balance before you try to use it again. Depending on the card issuer, it can take a few days for a payment to go through.

Credit card transaction 

You have a large pending transaction or hold. While it can take a few days for a transaction to post to your account, your available credit is reduced by both posted and pending transactions.

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It’s also possible that a rental car company, hotel, or gas station has placed a hold on your account to ensure there’s enough available credit for their transaction. If this happens, you may need to wait until the hold falls off, which can take several days, or pay down your balance, so you have more room on your credit line.

Fraud alerts

Your purchase was flagged as fraud. If you’ve made a purchase outside of your normal spending habits, your card issuer could decline it because it thinks the transaction is fraudulent. In this case, you may receive a phone call, text or email from your card issuer to confirm that it’s you using the card. If confirmed, you can usually use the card again immediately. If you don’t get a message, use a backup payment method and call your card issuer to resolve the issue.

Credit card expiration

The card information is incorrect or expired. Credit cards are usually good for a few years before they need to be replaced. If your card has expired, you’ll need to get a new one to be able to use the account. Also, make sure you enter your card information correctly when shopping online.

 Missed payment

You’re behind on payments. If you’re delinquent on your payments, your card issuer may prohibit you from using the account until you get caught up. If this happens, get current on the account as quickly as possible.

How do you fix a declined credit card?

While having your credit card declined doesn’t happen often, it’s typically a good idea to have a backup payment method, such as a second credit card, a debit card, or cash. If a transaction doesn’t go through on your credit card, you can simply move onto your backup payment method without holding up the checkout line.

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Once you’ve completed the transaction—or beforehand, if you specifically want to use the card in question—contact your issuer via the phone number on the back of your card and speak to a customer service representative to find out what happened.

In some cases, it may have been a simple misunderstanding or common reason and the representative can fix quickly the issue so the authorized user can use the card again immediately. In other cases, however, you may need to wait before the issue is resolved. The timing can vary depending on the reason for the decline.

Credit card tips everyone should know

If you want to use your card responsibly and take advantage of its features, here are some general credit card tips to help:

  • Always keep a backup payment method in case your first doesn’t work.
  • Pay your bill on time and in full every month to avoid interest charges.
  • Keep your balance low relative to your credit limit to maintain a good credit score.
  • Avoid using the card to make unnecessary purchases.
  • Keep track of your account balance and transactions to spot fraud.