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Why was my credit card not authorized?

There are many reasons why a credit card may not be authorized. The easiest way to find out is to telephone your card company who will usually tell you the reason. Sometimes your card may not authorize and the card company may not record the reason. This would happen if you simply typed in the card number incorrectly (for example).

Here are all of the reasons why your card may be not be authorized:

Insufficient funds

This is the most common reason for failing to authorize when there is not enough money available on the card. You may be unaware that you have insufficient funds for a variety of reasons:


If you book car hire, hotels or any other service that you will use in the future it is common for merchants to “pre-authorize” your transaction (often without your knowledge). For example, suppose you had $1,000 credit left on your card and you booked a hotel in a months’ time that will cost $950. You now only have $50 of credit left for the next month. Even if you cancel the hotel it may be still be a month before the pre-authorization is removed (as many banks do not allow merchants to remove pre-authorizations).

If you think this may have happened telephone your card company to have the pre-authorized transactions removed.

Your recent payment has not yet cleared

This is especially true if you pay by sending a check in the post. It can take a long time (due to postal delays and check clearance) for the funds to actually clear and be applied to your account. If you think this may have happened telephone your card company to check that your recent payment has cleared.

You entered the wrong credit card details

Your address or other card details did not match the address in the card company’s files for that card.

This often happens when you move house but forget to tell the card company your new address. It can also happen if you don’t spell your address in exactly the same way that it appears on your card statement.

The card will also be rejected (of course) if you type in the wrong number, wrong issue/expiry date, wrong verification code, or wrong 3D-Secure code.

Suspected fraud

Every card company has many different rules to “suspect” fraud. One even boasts that they apply over 300 rules to screen for fraud. This results in a huge number of “false positives”. Some card companies are incredibly over-cautious and will decline your card for the most trivial of reasons.

If you have had a card stolen or experienced fraud in the past you may also be on a high-risk register and your card company may be even more cautious in approving your transactions.

It is impossible to second-guess all of your card company’s anti-fraud tests (if they were published criminals would work around them) but here are some of the more common ones:

The card has not been used recently

Some card companies will stop any non-routine payment if a card hasn’t been used for a few weeks or months.

If you think this has happened telephone your card company to have your card re-activated.

Unusual spending pattern rules

Card companies have a huge number of rules revolving around spending patterns. It is impossible to know what these rules are (if they were published criminals would work around them) but anecdotal evidence suggests that a few of them are:

  • If you have never purchased on-line before and you try to make your very first Internet purchase your transaction could be blocked.
  • If you normally buy your shopping at one supermarket and then decide to use a different one, your transaction could be blocked.
  • If you normally buy low-cost clothes and then try to buy an expensive coat your transaction could be blocked.

You are purchasing from a merchant that doesn’t reside in your home country

In a global economy it is just plain silly for a card company to do this… but some still do. The only solution is to telephone your card company who will then remove their block on your card for overseas transactions.

Your card has been de-activated due to suspicious activity

This may have happened because you visited a restaurant, garage or other establishment where “card skimming” criminals have been operating. The card company may then block any card that was ever used at that establishment. In this case your card will not work anywhere.

If your card company has done this they may have already issued a new card which may be in the post (even though you may not be aware that your current card is blocked).

Your e-mail address is on a blacklist

Because of the large amount of spam circulating on the Internet there is now a huge database of suspected spammers. You can get on one of these lists quite innocently. If you send somebody an e-mail and they click the “report as spam” button on the bottom of their e-mail client when they receive it you may find your e-mail address blacked. If you’ve recently found that a lot of your e-mails don’t reach the recipient it may be a sign that your address is on one of these lists.

Credit card companies sometimes screen against purchasers whose e-mail address is on a list of suspected fraudsters. For this reason, you may find that your card is authorized if you use a different e-mail address when purchasing.

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