10 Reasons Why Your Credit Card Was Declined

Jaron Pak
A man's laptop screen reads "declined" after he uses his credit card to make an online purchase.

Credit cards are extremely helpful financial tools, but they can also cause issues from time to time. One common scenario is for a user to find their card has been declined while making a purchase.

While a declined charge doesn’t initially come with an explanation, there are a few common reasons for your credit card to be declined:

Table of Contents

1. Your Credit Card Has Expired

All credit cards have expiration dates. These provide added security, can help your card remain technologically up to date, and allow a credit card company to re-engage with you as a customer every few years. The expiration date can also serve to preemptively replace your cards before they become unusable through wear and tear.

Your card expiration is typically presented in a two-digit format (such as 05/26 for May of 2026) on the front or back of your card. If it is past the expiration date, you may need to order a new card to keep your account active.

2. Your Bank Detects Fraud

If you attempt to make several purchases in a row or try to charge an unusually large amount of money in a single purchase, it may trigger a fraud detection alert from your banking institution. If that happens, your card will decline the transaction and you will have to call or go online to confirm that you were the one attempting to make the charge.

3. You’ve Missed Credit Card Payments

If you’ve missed a payment on your credit card, it can lead the card issuer to temporarily freeze your account. If this is the first time you’ve missed a payment, there is usually a grace period, but if it’s a repeat behavior, your card may get shut down within days of missing a bill. In addition, this kind of habitual behavior can severely hamper your ability to apply for other credit cards in the future.

4. You Haven’t Activated Your Card

If you’ve just received a new credit card, it may need to be activated before you can make a purchase. Typically the activation instructions are included on a removable sticker right on the card itself. The activation process is quick, simple, and can usually be done either online or over the phone while you’re in the store.

5. Your Account Is Closed

There are a few reasons that an account can be closed by the credit card company itself. For instance, they can close an account if:

  • It has been inactive for too long.
  • You have fallen behind in your payments.
  • The creditor doesn’t offer that card anymore.

If your credit account has been closed, you will need to contact the company to see what, if anything, can be done to revive the account.

6. Your Card Is Worn Out

While countless transactions can take place through the cloud without skipping a beat, your actual physical credit cards aren’t immortal, and sooner or later they’re going to wear out. This could happen if your card is scratched, bent, split, or cracked. In addition, if the strip on the card wears out or the chip is damaged, it may cease to function properly.

When that happens, you’ll need to replace the card to use it normally again, although retailers can often still directly input the card number itself into their payment system to complete a purchase.

7. Your Credit Card Is Demagnetized

Much like a faulty hotel room key, at times your credit cards can actually become demagnetized. This could happen if it comes too close to a magnet or even a cell phone. When a credit card is demagnetized, it can no longer be swiped, although the numbers on the card can still be punched in manually to make a purchase.

8. A New Card Is on the Way

If your card was declined, it may be because a new card is already on the way. This could be because of an impending expiration date, a new EMV chip, or even because your account was flagged for fraudulent activity and a new card was issued to replace your old one. If another card is coming, you’ll need to wait until it arrives in order to activate your new card and destroy your old one.

9. You Have Incorrect Billing Information

Sometimes a credit card decline can come from something as simple as misinformation. If you input your credit card number or even your billing address incorrectly, it could lead to a declined charge. Fortunately, a second attempt should remedy the situation. Just don’t try too many times or it may be flagged as fraudulent activity.

10. You’re Traveling

Finally, if you’re traveling and you make a purchase, your card may be declined. You could be out of town, out of state, or even out of the country when this happens. If a charge pops up on your account in an unusual geographic location, it’s often a red flag that prompts a credit card company to freeze your account. If you want to avoid this scenario, make sure to inform your credit card company of your travel plans before you leave. 

What to Do If Your Credit Card Is Declined

If you find yourself stuck with a declined credit card and you can’t figure out what the issue is, don’t worry. All you need to do is call your creditor to see why the card was declined. Typically you can find member contact information on the back of your credit card that will enable you to make the inquiry over the phone.

In the meantime, it’s important to remember that this is a very common occurrence that doesn’t warrant excessive fretting, raised tempers, or a rant at the cashier. Start by calling the credit card company to figure out why your card was declined and then work to remedy the situation from there.

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