It’s happened to all of us. You browse the store, get to the checkout, and your card gets declined.
You take out a different card and use that to pay, then walk away, groceries in tow, wondering what’s wrong since there’s still money in the account.
The reality is there are many reasons why your debit card was declined, even if you have enough funds in your account. Banks and stores use a series of electronic components to determine card validity. If an error is read at any point in that process your card will be declined.
The 3 Main Reasons Your Card Can Be Declined
While there are a lot of reasons your card can be declined, there are 3 main gates that check your data. These can be broken down as:
- Your issuing bank declined your card
- The acquirer or store declined the card
- Channel malfunction on transportation networks
If the issue results from your issuing bank, then your card was declined by an issue regarding you. This doesn’t necessarily mean your balance is insufficient and is usually because the card was not active, or a different security measure.
If the store or channel rejected your card, then it was likely a technical issue that didn’t relate to your card and likely means the connection cut out to the system.
Figuring out what went wrong is important to fix this issue and prevent it from happening again.
Why Would My Bank Decline My Debit Card?
Your bank could decline your debit card in situations where there were insufficient funds, or if you typed your PIN in wrong too many times.
Other reasons could be far more mundane. Your card could be expired. You might be using the new card you were sent because your old card expired and forgot to activate it. Or you tried activating your card by calling, and your bank had an error and it didn’t activate.
To resolve this issue, simply call the bank to activate your card.
Banks also have usage limits per day, so if your card is declined on a heavy shopping day, you may have surpassed your usage limit. This is supposed to happen somewhat infrequently and is meant to prevent a stolen card from having its account fully liquidated.
The reason for your card being declined that is of more concern is if it was flagged for a security issue.
Your bank will decline your card if your purchase is flagged as suspicious. If you’re traveling and make an international purchase, it will be flagged and declined. However, if your card was reported as lost or stolen, it will have been deactivated even if you’ve found it later.
These don’t need to be entirely physical charges either. If someone was able to acquire your card number and made an online purchase, the charge could be flagged, and your card could be declined.
Hopefully, your card wasn’t stolen, and everything is fine, but in that instance, calling your bank to make sure everything okay is your best bet.
Why Would the Store Decline My Card?
A store or shop that accepts debit or credit cards has to first verify the card to make sure it’s sufficient and legitimate. Most often, this is the result of a configuration error, typically because their connection dropped momentarily or is down altogether. This is usually not your fault.
The store has a Point-of-Sale (or POS) terminal that connects to the ATM Network storing your card information. If the POS terminal has an issue, it won’t connect with the ATM Network to get verification.
If the terminal is either invalid or inactive, their system will fail. If the person trying to sign into the terminal doesn’t have proper clearance, it won’t work either. The issue could be higher up the store’s system if there is an issue with their corporate system.
If this is the case, you don’t have anything to worry about with your card. It wasn’t your fault, and your card is probably fine. Usually, you can tell if it was an issue on their end, as other customers may also have an issue, or the error won’t be card specific.
Erring on the side of caution is always a safe bet and calling your bank to make sure everything is okay is a good idea.
Your Card is Declined By a Network Error
This is a much more technical issue and will rarely be your fault. If a store declines your card because their terminals had an error, a Network error is caused when the information can’t reach your bank at all.
There are a lot of stages that occur between the store’s POS terminal scanning your card and it reaching your bank for verification.
When all goes well, what happens is the POS terminal takes your card details and sends them to the store’s bank with a request for funds.
The store’s bank looks at the card, then forwards that request for funds to your bank over the encrypted ATM Network. This step requires the request being decrypted, then re-encrypting before being sent to your bank.
Once your bank received the message, it decrypts it then checks your card’s status. It will determine if you have sufficient funds or an appropriate line of credit.
When it’s approved, the approval message is sent back to the store’s bank. The transaction goes through, and your receipt is printed.
After this process, the bank deducts the necessary amounts and processes the transaction. Data is transferred, but no funds are exchanged at this point. Future transactions depend on the proper information being uploaded and properly updated for the system to verify the information.
Issues occur at this stage when there’s any server connectivity issue. So much information is passing back and forth and back and forth that if it snags at any stage, it will interrupt the entire process. These are read as system errors or timeout errors and don’t indicate any risk to your card’s security.
Having your debit card declined is incredibly embarrassing and something everyone wants to avoid. Not to mention, it’s incredibly frightening and anxiety-inducing when your card gets declined but you know you have enough funds.
However, there are a ton of reasons that could make a store decline your card that have little to no lasting effect on you. While everyone has forgotten to activate a new card, many issues are technical with either the store’s system or the network between the store and the bank.
It’s easy to overlook how complex a system we use often multiple times daily to make our regular purchases. Banks, stores, and credit cards have a complicated network that they use to verify and communicate with each other. That they do it so quickly and seamlessly is amazingly convenient, but if any hiccup occurs in that process, it can result in your card being declined.
Regardless of why your card is declined, it’s always a good idea to check with your bank and verify that everything is okay. Even worse than the embarrassment of having your card declined is the hassle of dealing with a stolen card.