If you’ve ever had your credit card declined, you know how embarrassing it can be. Read these consumers’ most cringeworthy stories, learn the reasons why cards are declined and find out what to do if it ever happens to you.
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If you’ve ever had a credit card declined, you know the pain is real.
To be so stupefied, humbled and economically naked before a salesperson or server leaves you … crushed.
And likely worried.
Read these stories about people’s awkward and uncomfortable moments when their cards were declined and find out what they did.
Then, discover all the reasons your credit card can be declined, and what you should do if it happens to you.
See related: 8 embarrassing credit and debit card moments
Caleb C. of Houston was visiting his parents for the first time after he got a full-time salaried job, for which he got to travel the world.
It was, in his estimation, “my most important milestone since graduating high school.”
Such a pivotal moment as a maturing adult called for a celebration.
Flexing his newly developed credit card muscles, Caleb decided to visit his parents — who lived in Florida — and take them to their favorite restaurant.
“We had a wonderful dinner, and when the bill came, I made a great big show of putting my shiny new credit card down on the check and presenting it to the server,” Caleb recounted.
“Five minutes later she was back, informing me, in front of my parents — and what seemed like everyone in the restaurant — that the card had been turned down. It was beyond embarrassing,” he added.
“I could only assume it was declined because I was using it in a different state, which I hadn’t done before.”
What he did: Flustered, Caleb ended up using his debit card, which worked for some reason.
“Later that week, I let Wells Fargo know happened and that I was a frequent traveler. I haven’t had an issue with that particular card since — I’ve swiped it in several different states in the span of the same day with no problem many times,” Caleb said.
Culver City, California, resident Jim R. owned a camera store in the 1990s and once had a banner year because of the holidays.
He decided to take his entire staff of 20 out for a holiday party to thank everyone for a job well done.
He made reservations at a fancy place and told everyone several times to “order whatever you want.”
“When the check came, I just handed over my card. I was surprised at how big it [the check] was, and even more surprised at how quickly it [my card] was declined,” Jim said.
“I was shocked — mortified, actually — and to make matters worse I didn’t have any other cards or cash,” Jim remembered.
What he did: “I had to ask one of my employees to drive back to the store and get a business check to pay for the party,” Jim said.
“Later that night I called my credit card company and the customer service rep told me it was declined because I had made a very large purchase (a laptop) that afternoon and the company thought the party might have been a fraudulent charge,” he added.
A compromising position
Gary C., of Santa Cruz, California, “borrowed” his mother’s credit card when he was 17 and ventured to a nearby drugstore to buy condoms.
He noticed there was a minimum charge for using a credit card, so he chose the biggest box of condoms he could find.
“When I went to pay, the cashier was smiling from ear to ear and he actually said, ‘Looks like someone is going to have a fun night,’” Gary said.
“A minute later he told me, in a voice so loud I thought he was using the intercom, that my card had been declined,” Gary added.
Not only was the cashier holding in his laughter; the people in line were too, he said.
What he did: “I did absolutely nothing. I ran from that store like a criminal and put my mom’s card back in her purse and never said a word about it,” Gary said.
So much for his fun night.
See related: What to do when your balance transfer is denied
Food for thought
Lisa G. from Columbus, Ohio, was doing what she does best: shopping for groceries and filling up her cart like nobody’s business.
She certainly wasn’t alone — it was the holidays and the store was packed.
She waited in line for at least 15 minutes, and there was a long line behind her still.
At checkout, she owed more than $200, and as usual, she whipped out her trusty credit card.
“When the cashier told me it was declined, I was shocked. I got really hot and my face turned red. Meanwhile, the line was growing — and growling,” Lisa said.
“I was totally humiliated. I asked the cashier to try the card again — it was a no-go and I just wanted to disappear. I had no cash, nothing,” she said.
What she did: The store kept Lisa’s cart while she ran home to get a check. She called her credit card company and was told that the reason the card was declined was that it had expired. And Lisa couldn’t remember for the life of her being reminded that it was expiring — or receiving a new card in the mail.
Frank R. from Philadelphia will never forget the one time his credit card was declined.
When Frank was 23, a friend of his had introduced him to a girl he thought would be a perfect match.
He asked her out on a date and did everything he could to make it extra special, including having flowers on the table when they arrived for the dinner reservation he had made.
The girl was quite impressed, and Frank was proud of his efforts.
They ended up spending almost three hours at dinner and had a wonderful time.
When the server came with the check, he paid with his credit card.
It didn’t take long for the server to return.
“Your card was declined. I ran it three times.”
What he did: “Before I could reach my wallet, my date whipped out her card and paid for the check. I felt like a complete idiot,” Frank said.
“All I could do was apologize and promise to pay her back,” he said.
“When I called the company, the rep said that my card was in good standing and shouldn’t have been declined,” Frank said. “I was in the twilight zone. What in the heck was going on?”
He pulled the card out of his wallet — shocked to see someone else’s name on it. He had been to the same restaurant a few nights before and apparently the server gave him back the wrong card.
This is why your card might be declined
These are some of the common reasons your credit card might get declined:
- Your account was flagged for fraud: Credit card issuers are constantly monitoring your credit card transactions for fraud. They check to make sure your purchases fit the typical pattern of what you buy. Anything outside your normal spending habits might be flagged as fraud and result in your credit card being declined.
- Your payment is past due: Your card issuer might suspend your ability to make new purchases if you’ve missed a few payments. To restore your purchasing power, you’ll have to bring your account current.
- You ran out of credit: If you’ve had your credit limit cut and you don’t know about it or if you’ve been spending like crazy, you may have run out of available credit. Remember, too, that authorization holds from hotels and car rental companies also lower your available credit.
- Your card expired: Always check your card’s expiration date, because if it passed, you’ll get your transaction declined. Make sure you get a new card when it’s time, and don’t forget to activate it.
- Your account was closed: Your credit card issuer can close your account for a number of reasons — and not even warn you. Or, you might have received — and ignored — a letter from your issuer regarding your card’s standing and subsequent closure.
Here’s what to do if your card is declined
The easiest thing to do if your card is declined is to pay another way, such as via a debit card, cash or another credit card.
If you have no backup payment method, it will complicate things.
You can either call someone to help or ask if you can return to the business later to settle your balance after you’ve resolved the issue or found another payment method. You might even offer some collateral to ensure you’ll come back.
Whatever you do, remain calm and polite — and don’t blame the store or the server at the restaurant.
Give your credit card issuer a call as soon as possible to find out why your card was declined.
A customer service rep will be able to tell you the exact reason your credit card was declined, and sometimes, such as in a case of suspected fraud, fix the issue so your transaction can process normally.
Even if you pay your credit card bills on time and keep your card in good standing, it’s always possible it can be declined because you simply don’t know what’s going on at the credit card issuer.
One good way to avoid embarrassment is to always carry at least two forms of payment with you, such as a credit and debit card.
That way, it should always be smooth sailing when you go to complete a transaction.