credit & debt

7 Reasons Your Credit Card Can Be Declined

You often can take steps beforehand to avoid the embarrassment of a rejected transaction.

Hopefully this has never happened to you: You hand your credit card to a sales clerk to make a purchase then are told, after the clerk swipes it, that your card has been declined. It's embarrassing just thinking about it, right? Plus, it might have you scratching your head wondering exactly why your card was declined.

Bill Hardekopf, CEO of credit-card comparison site LowCards.com, says that there are several reasons a credit card might be declined -- many of which you might not even suspect. Fortunately, there often are steps you can take to avoid ending up in this predicament. And situations that can't be averted often can be resolved quickly if you contact your credit card company as soon as your card is declined, says John Oldshue, LowCards.com founder and editor.

Here are seven common reasons your credit card might be declined and ways to avoid or remedy the situation.

1. You've exceeded your credit limit. Your card will be declined if you try to continue to make charges once you've hit the maximum amount your credit card company will allow you to borrow. If you carry a balance, you should check how close you are to your limit by checking your account online or calling the number on the back of your card before making purchases. Hardekopf says that you also can sign up to receive text alerts from your card company when you are close to reaching your credit limit.

2. Your account is delinquent. If you are behind on your payments, your card issuer will eventually stop accepting new purchases. If you have good to excellent credit, the card company may allow you to miss a couple before shutting you down, Oldshue says. But if you have any negative marks on your credit or have missed a payment in the past, your card issuer will probably freeze your account after the first missed payment, he says.

3. You have a suspicious charge. Credit card companies can be quick to freeze an account if they suspect fraud. This will work in your favor if you're actually a victim of identity theft. But it can also happen if your own credit activity has created a security risk -- such as shopping in an unusual place, having a high number of transactions in one day, making a very large purchase or trying to withdraw a lot of money from an ATM, Hardekopf says. You'll need to call your card company to get an explanation as to why there is a security problem, Oldshue says. If there is fraud, you can stop it quickly. If you've made the charges, you might be able to resolve the issue by simply answering a few questions from the card company. If the company still can't clear the account from the security concern, Oldshue says it might issue you a new temporary account number or FedEx a card overnight to you if you are in a situation (say, traveling overseas) where you need access to credit.

4. There's a hold on your account. If you book a hotel room or rent a car using your credit card, your card company might place a hold on the amount you charged -- even if you haven't completed your stay or turned in the rental car. The hold ensures that the company gets the money it needs from your use of its services and prevents you from spending beyond your credit limit.

5. You are trying to make an international purchase or an online purchase from a foreign company. Hardekopf says that this could create an alert and possibly freeze your card. To avoid this, call your card company before you travel overseas or make an international purchase so it won't suspect suspicious activity.

6. You entered your card information incorrectly. This is an easy mistake to make when shopping online. So double check the card number, expiration date, billing address and security code you typed before hitting "enter" to avoid having your card declined for simple human error.

7. Your card is expired. If you don't regularly use your credit card or aren't making a lot of purchases online that require you to type in your card's expiration date, you might try to use it without realizing that it's no longer valid. Typically card companies send customers new credit cards before their current ones expire. So check that pile of mail to make sure you didn't overlook an envelope with a new card. Otherwise, you'll need to call the company to request a new card.

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