Why was my debit card declined when I have money? (and how to fix it)

blue debit cards for debit card declined

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Have you ever tried to complete a debit transaction and your debit card declined even though you were certain there was enough money in the account?

If this has happened to you, you’re not alone.

There can be many reasons your debit card declined.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for debit card transactions to be declined for various reasons besides insufficient funds showing a negative balance that are beyond your control, even when money is available.

Debit cards are a convenient way to pay for things without having to carry around cash, but they aren’t problem-free.

A common reason a debit card declined has to do with the type of purchase you are attempting, such as an international purchase or an online purchase.

For example, you may be trying to make an online purchase on a website that does not accept debit card payment as an option for payment method.

Other reasons your debit card was declined could be you are using an expired card, the wrong pin number was used, the debit card has been flagged for suspicious activity, or the banks limit for daily use has been exceeded.

To avoid problems in the future and resolve them quickly when they happen, follow this guide of common and potential reasons why your debit card declined and how you can fix the problem.

Most banks and other financial institutions are willing to help you resolve the issue smoothly and quickly.

First, verify funds are available

This is the first step before you waste time moving through the following possible reasons your debit card declined.

Verify you have money available in your bank account, even if you are sure there is enough money to cover your purchase.

Sometimes we can think we have a certain amount of money in the account without realizing a check we wrote a month ago was just cashed or an autopay bill came out that we forgot about.

Another thing that can happen is you made a deposit and the money was accidentally funded to the wrong account.

This is more common if you have more than one account in the same institution, which is allowed by most banks.

For example, a savings account attached to your checking account, or more than one checking account.

Your debit card hasn’t been activated

If you didn’t activate your debit card when it was received, the merchant will get the declined debit card message on their system.

Most debit cards must be manually activated after you receive them, with the exception being if you personally picked the card up at a local branch instead of it being delivered through the mail.

If your card is new, look through the information that came with it for the activation number to call and directions on the steps to follow.

It is also possible your card is required to be activated from an ATM machine. In that case, you will not be able to use your card until you follow the instructions at the ATM location.

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Suspicious activity was detected

Another reason your debit card declined could be it has been flagged for fraudulent activity.

Financial institutions have advanced fraud detection systems that monitor the activity on your debit card. When a charge hits their system it is either approved or declined, then recorded.

As debit card charges continue to hit the system, any type of unusual activity that is different from your normal pattern of use will flag the bank account.

Activity that can trigger debit card fraud and result in a declined debit card:

  • A large number of online purchases in a short period of time
  • Purchases made outside of your typical charge area
  • Purchases made at multiple retailers that are too many miles to travel in-between to physically complete the purchases
  • Unusually large purchases
  • Large purchases on a brand new card
  • Failing to update changes to your personal information
  • Making a small purchase followed by a large purchase
  • Excessive atm withdrawals or attempts to withdraw cash

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If you are signed up for text messaging, your debit card issuer will typically text you if fraudulent activity is detected on your account.

The message will give details about the charge, such as the amount and retailer or location, and ask for an automated response of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ if the charge was yours.

If you receive a text message similar to this and you do not respond, the institution will deactivate your debit card for your protection.

Be sure to respond to all text messages so you don’t end up stuck at the gas station without a way to pay for your gas because you ignored a message!

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If you are going on a vacation that will take you to locations you typically don’t travel to, contact your card issuer with the destination and dates.

This will prevent a fraud alert from occurring on your debit card for being used in a new location.

It creates a large amount of stress to be on vacation and not be able to use your card from Saturday until Monday because the financial institution was closed for the weekend.

You are using an expired card

In most cases, your bank or credit union will mail you a new debit card about 1-2 months before your current card expires.

If you don’t activate the new debit card and just keep using the old one, once the expiration date passes you will start getting declines for an expired card and then be in a panic to get your hands on the new card.

Most payment card issuers will typically send you a notice that your card has expired before they completely shut off service on an old account. This allows you time to get a new one mailed or pick one up in person if necessary.

Make sure the expiry date hasn’t passed by looking at the front of the card or log in to your account online for confirmation that the debit card is expired.

If you cannot locate the expiration date, contact a customer service representative of the card issuer or your financial institution for assistance with the account answers.

When you get a new debit card in the mail, make note of the expiration date so you know when to expect it to expire and plan accordingly.

Bank records are different than the information you entered

Most online retailers require you to complete your full name, physical address, and city, state, and zip code before processing an order.

If you make a mistake and enter incorrect information in any of the fields, you may get a decline on your debit card.

Also, if the billing and shipping address is different, be sure you indicate which one matches the information at your financial institution to get card authorization with an online transaction.

Another instance where this can give you a declined debit card is entering the wrong zip code at a gas pump or other retailer that requires you to enter your zip code.

The important takeaway here is to be diligent in keeping your personal details current at your financial institution.

The card type (Mastercard or Visa) isn’t accepted at the retailer

lady holding debit card for debit card declinedThere are some retailers that don’t accept Mastercard or Visa for payment.

This is not common, but it can happen. They may only have a system that processes Discover Card or American Express, for example.

In this case, their system cannot support your card to make the transaction, which will trigger an automatic decline.

The retailer doesn’t accept debit cards

This is usually seen when shopping online through a retailer’s website where they only take credit cards for payment.

If you look deeper, you may see this message: “We only accept credit cards, unfortunately, we cannot process your purchase using Debit.”

In this case, there is nothing wrong with the account at your credit union or bank, the debit card declined because it simply isn’t a form of payment at that store so it cannot process through their system.

You are over your daily withdrawal limit or spending limit

Most financial institutions put a daily spending limit on the amount of money you can withdraw or charge to your debit card over the course of a day. If this amount is exceeded, the result will be the card being declined.

Daily withdrawal limits are established to protect the customer.

If you did have someone steal your card and go on a shopping spree, without the banks limit they could drain your account before you even realized it was happening.

Once you have reached this daily spending limit, debit card transactions will be declined until the next day.

If your card was declined for this reason and you have additional purchases to make that day, you can contact a customer service representative and request the daily spending limit be lifted for the day.

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The amount you are charging is greater than allowed

Most banks put a maximum transaction allowed cap on debit cards, which is the amount that can be charged at one time.

This amount is typically set by the payment card’s issuing institution.

A common amount is $500. However, your institution may have a different amount.

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If you know you need to make a charge greater than the maximum allowed, contact your bank or credit union and ask them to raise your limit for that day.

Also, if you want your daily spending limit raised permanently, you can make that request.

For example, if your daily maximum transaction size is $500, you may want the transaction limit to be raised to $1,000.

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If your debit card was declined because you are over the maximum transaction allowed, process the payment in two transactions.

As long as there is enough money in the account and you are under the daily limit, this is a simple solution.

You entered an incorrect pin number

It is easy to hit the wrong numbers on the keypad when entering your PIN (personal identification number), triggering an incorrect pin entry and a declined debit card.

This will cause an automatic debit card declined message.

Also, if you try to re-enter your pin and get the wrong pin too many times, fraudulent activity can be triggered and your card deactivated until you speak to your bank or credit union.

You tried to run the card too many times

When your debit card declines and you are not expecting it, the common plan of action is to try again. And sometimes, again and again, which results in your card being declined.

This type of activity simulates the actions of a thief trying to get a debit card to process as they try everything possible to guess the PIN and get their purchases approved for payment on your card.

If your debit card gets locked from being scanned and declined too many times, you will need to contact your card issuer to get it unlocked.

You will not be able to use the card until the issuer authorizes and unlocks it.

Joint account

When your debit card declines and you are not expecting it, the common plan of action is to try again. And sometimes, again and again, which results in your card being declined.

This type of activity simulates the actions of a thief trying to get a debit card to process as they try everything possible to guess the PIN and get their purchases approved for payment on your card.

If your debit card gets locked from being scanned and declined too many times, you will need to contact your card issuer to get it unlocked.

You will not be able to use the card until the issuer authorizes and unlocks it.

The merchant isn’t approved by your institution or is considered a high risk

A high-risk transaction requires preapproval from the debit card owner before the charge is approved in the bank or credit union’s system.

An example of this situation is making an international purchase.

Many financial institutions block international transactions to protect the customer.

If you prefer to have this block lifted, contact your branch and make the request.

Account has insufficient funds

If your debit card was declined, the first thing to check is if there are insufficient funds in the bank account to cover the payment amount.

The quickest way to check is to open your mobile app and simply look to be sure there isn’t a negative balance.

It is possible you have sufficient funds but they were deposited into the wrong account if you have a savings and checking account or multiple checking accounts, for example.

In this case, most financial institutions will let you make a transfer from one account to the other using their mobile banking, and your problem is fixed.

How do you fix a declined debit card?

The first thing to do is contact your financial institution

Most issues that cause a declined debit card can be quickly fixed by having a conversation with their customer service representative.

If you recognize any of the above issues, you can share the information and speed up the process.

If your card is declined is because of suspicion of fraudulent activity, they will ask several questions to confirm the authorized purchases were made by you or anyone you may have willingly let use your debit card.

If the purchases are yours from irregular activity, your card will be reactivated and available to use practically immediately in most cases.

If the charges are not yours the debit card will stay turned off and a new card will be issued to ensure it is not fraudulently used again.

What happens if my card is declined?

In general, nothing happens to your account if your attempt to make a purchase results in a declined debit card.

The retailer gets a message stating the debit card declined from their system and they pass the information on to you.

It is recorded in your credit union or bank’s system in case information is needed about the transaction.

Do you get charged if your debit card is declined?

It is not protocol for most financial institutions to charge for a declined debit card.

They are not covering the purchase if they decline the charge so there is no reason to charge you.

It isn’t the same as when there are overdraft fees in a checking account when a check is written on an account that needs more money in it for the check to clear.

An overdraft occurs in your account when it becomes overdrawn because there is not enough money to cover a purchase you made.

However, if you have overdraft protection attached to your account and it includes your debit card, it is likely you will be charged overdraft fees for not having enough money in your account to cover the charge.

Overdraft protection typically does not protect you from additional fees being charged.

The purpose of overdraft protection is to have coverage for transactions to be processed even though there is not enough money in the account to cover them, throwing your account into a negative balance with the purchase being approved (so your debit card is not declined in this situation.)

Keep in mind this would not trigger a debit card declined message because the debit card charge would process through the merchant’s system.

Can I run my debit card as credit if I have no money?

Most local merchants give the customer the choice if they want to process their payment method as a debit transaction or credit transaction when you are making payment in the store.

For online purchases, there is generally not an option to choose if you process the payment as debit or credit.

Either way, in most cases, if there is a negative balance in your account resulting in not enough money to cover the cost of the purchase, the debit card will likely be declined.

What is the difference between running a debit card as debit or credit?

There are several differences that are important to know.

  • Running your debit card as ‘credit’ is not the same as using a credit card because your debit card is attached to your checking account.
  • A credit card is a line of credit where you are using someone else’s money to make the purchase.

When you process the payment as a debit transaction:

  • Your PIN number is typically required, although if the purchase is small some merchants don’t require it
  • Money for the purchase comes out of your checking account right away
  • The transaction costs the merchant less
  • Cash back is typically allowed up to the store’s set limit

When you process the payment as a credit transaction:

  • You may need to sign for the purchase
  • A hold is placed on your account for the amount of the purchase, and most banks deduct the actual amount from your account within 24-48 hours
    • Keep in mind since there is a hold the money is not available for you to use and if you try to charge your debit card it will likely result in a debit card declined to the merchant
  • The merchant pays a higher fee, with a small portion of the money going to your institution as interchange income
  • Getting cash back is not an option

Final thoughts

If you feel certain there is sufficient money in your account to cover your purchase and your debit card still declines, it is typically because your financial institution’s system has picked up irregular activity in the account that appears more like fraudulent activity.

However, there are a variety of other reasons debit card transactions are not approved such as entering an incorrect PIN, the withdrawal limits for the day are exceeded, or the physical address tied to your account or other personal information is different than what you entered for an online transaction.

In any case, the best plan of action is to contact the card issuer.

First, log in to your mobile app so you have your account information readily available as well as the personal details they may need to verify your identity.

Then contact your financial institution and they can provide the necessary financial advice on how to get your card reactivated and available to use.

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