Reasons Why Your Credit Card Was Declined

A woman stresses out with her hands over her head and a credit card in her hand.
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If you’re reading this, chances are you just had your credit card declined. Now that you’re recovering from the embarrassment and have found another way to pay, you’re probably trying to figure out — why exactly was my credit card declined?

But before you spiral into a panic, or angrily call up your card issuer, hear this: Getting your credit card declined doesn’t always mean the worst has happened — and there are plenty of other reasons a credit card can be declined beyond a general lack of funds. You know you are the authorized user and have been making your credit card payments.

Could it be credit card fraud? Likely not.

So why was your card specifically declined? Here are seven of the most common reasons credit cards get declined, plus our best tips for getting the whole shebang resolved as quickly as possible.

7 Reasons Your Credit Card Was Declined

There are lots of reasons your credit card may have been declined. Here are seven of the most common ones.

1. Your Card Hasn’t Been Activated

If you’ve recently received a new credit card in the mail and haven’t properly activated it before trying to make a purchase, then it’s entirely possible your card will get declined. Most new credit cards will come with instructions on how to activate them, usually either by logging into your account online or by calling the number listed on the card.

2. Your Card Is Expired

Another all-too-common reason credit cards get declined? They’ve surpassed the expiration date. If your credit card was just declined and you have no idea why, check the date on the card to ensure it’s still valid. Some credit card issuers will automatically send you a new card as your current one approaches its expiration date. The catch? They may not tell you about this in advance, or it might just be that you recently ignored a few too many emails or letters from your bank.

3. You Hit Your Credit Limit

This is usually the most dreaded reason a card gets declined, and it does happen. Maybe you made a large purchase and forgot just how close that would bring you to your credit limit, or maybe an automatic payment was just withdrawn that pushed your balance into the red. Whatever the case, this is an issue that can usually be quickly resolved by contacting your card issuer and making a payment to lower your balance. Watch your credit card balance faithfully so this doesn’t happen.

4. You Made an Unusually Large Payment

If you just attempted to make an usually large payment using your credit card, it might trigger a fraud alert on your card, causing your bank to decline the payment. One way to avoid this is by signing up for account activity alerts with your credit card company. That way they can contact you about potentially suspicious account activity, rather than automatically blocking the payment.

5. You Used Your Card While Traveling

Similarly, if you recently tried to use your card while traveling abroad (without notifying your credit card company), chances are pretty high your payment gets declined. Again, setting up alerts and also letting your card company know your travel plans in advance can go a long way in avoiding these kinds of mishaps. Not all credit cards have this trigger, but many do.

6. You’re Behind on Payments

Another not-so-fun reason your card may get declined is if you’re behind on payments. Credit card companies will start declining new purchases if you’ve recently missed one or more minimum payments. This can be resolved by contacting your credit card issuer and making a payment as a show of good faith.

7. Your Account Was Closed

If you went to swipe a credit card that’s been gathering dust in your wallet (ie. one that hasn’t been used in a very long time), it’s entirely possible your account was closed—and trying to pay with a closed account will almost certainly result in a declined payment.

What to Do if Your Card Gets Declined

Oftentimes, you can find out why your credit card was declined (and get it resolved) in a matter of minutes. Here are some of the best ways to troubleshoot a declined credit card.

Check the Details on Your Card

Before calling up your credit card company and getting an earful of repetitive messages and hold music, take a minute to review the details on your card. If you have a new card, check that it’s been properly activated. If you have an older card, check the expiration date.

Check Your Account

Assuming your card is valid, now’s a good time to check your account. Look in your recent emails or text messages for any notifications you may have received from your bank related to your declined payment, and log in to your account to check for any new alerts as well.

Get in Touch With Your Card Issuer

If you can’t resolve the issue by checking your physical card or online account, you’re going to unfortunately have to endure the dreaded hold-music — by which we mean, contact your card issuer. Be sure to ask them for the specifics on exactly why your card was declined, and what you can do to get the issue resolved as fast as possible. Plug your card issuer’s customer service number into your smartphone now. This will make it easier to call ASAP if your card is declined.

Use a Different Payment Method

It’s good to have multiple payment methods on hand (ie. cash or different cards) for situations like these, that way you can use your debit card or second-favorite credit card (or even some cash) to cover any urgent expenses if your card is declined.

How to Prevent Your Card From Getting Declined

Hoping to avoid this kind of mess in the future? Here are our best strategies to prevent your card from being declined.

Sign Up for Alerts

One of the best ways to avoid having your card declined (for any reason) is to simply sign up for text or email alerts with your card company. They will use these to inform you of any suspicious activity on your account, as well as sending balance alerts, and anything else that might temporarily suspend or otherwise jeopardize your ability to use your credit card normally.

Be Sure to Properly Activate New Cards

Like we mentioned early, new cards will be declined if they aren’t properly activated. You can avoid this fate by taking the time to activate any new credit cards you receive before using them (or better yet—before even stashing them in your wallet).

Be Aware of Your Card’s Expiration Dates

Another common timing-related issue with cards is that you go to use them after they’ve expired. While card issuers will often stay on top of sending you a new card before your current one expires, it’s still entirely possible that you missed something in your unopened mail pile. Do yourself a favor and avoid having your card declined by keeping track of your credit card expiration dates.

Check Your Balance Regularly

Checking your balance regularly is the best way to ensure you aren’t dangerously close to maxing out your credit limit. It’s also a good way to stay on track with your monthly budget and be prepared for whatever credit card payment you’ll need to make at the end of your current billing cycle.

Keep Up With Minimum Payments

Keeping up with minimum payments isn’t only important for avoiding a declined card, it’s also important for your general financial well-being. Remember: Credit bureaus take things like payment history into account when calculating your credit score.

Notify Your Card Issuer of Your Travel Plans Ahead of Time

Get in the habit of notifying your credit card company before jets-setting off to exotic locales, and you can save yourself the headache of having your card declined while abroad.

Use Your Card Regularly

Last but not least, be sure you’re using all of your credit cards at least semi-regularly to ensure the accounts are still active. That way, you’ll know that every card you’re carrying actually deserves a place in your wallet.

Contributor Larissa Runkle frequently writes on finance, real estate, and lifestyle topics for The Penny Hoarder.