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What do you mean my card was declined?

A credit card not going through is the No. 1 'awkward money moment,' according to a new survey. It's also the most preventable.

By Donna_Freedman Jun 26, 2013 9:48AM

Logo: Woman swiping a credit card (Rubberball/Mike Kemp/Rubberball/Getty Images)The evening was perfection. Your dinner guest was entranced by the restaurant's ambiance and by the superb food and wine. You couldn't be happier.


Then the server leans over to murmur discreetly, "Do you have another credit card? This one didn't go through."


Having a card declined was the "most awkward money moment" for 41% of the more than 2,100 people recently surveyed by


The embarrassment factor is exponentially worse if this is an important occasion, such as landing an important client or successfully proposing to your sweetheart. In either case that person might be thinking, "Just what kind of deadbeat am I doing business with/spending the rest of my life with?"

This is a largely preventable moment, of course: Pay your statement promptly and the card should go through just fine. Except when it doesn't: My Visa was canceled after a data breach and it was terribly embarrassing to have a cashier give me the hard squint and a "This card is no good."

But sometimes stuff just happens and we need to be ready for it. Or ready to dodge it: According to the survey, 48% of those surveyed have specifically avoided a person or situation for fear of an awkward money moment. Such as: 

  • Feeling pressured to donate to a charity on behalf of a co-worker, family member or friend (34%).
  • Saying "no" to a panhandler (29%).
  • Feeling pressured to chip in on a group gift at work (25%).
  • Sharing salary/wage amounts with co-workers (also 25%).
  • Splitting a dinner bill with a large group (17%).
Any of that sound familiar?

Oops, I forgot my wallet -- no, really!

Those surveyed were allowed to offer their own real-life experiences. A few examples:
  • "Being asked by a boss to contribute to his political party."
  • "Paying for something in all coins."
  • "I knew they were collecting money for someone at work and I could hear them going around, so I ducked out of the office."
  • "When a co-worker learned my bonus was much more than hers."
  • "Forgot my wallet (for) a client lunch and had to ask them to pay for me."

I'm feeling better about my own life all the time.


Unless you're independently wealthy and blessed with perfect family and friends you will almost certainly have your share of awkward money moments. Jackie Warrick of acknowledges that such situations can be "difficult to navigate," but suggests that honesty is the best policy when it comes to money matters.

"Be upfront with others when it comes to your finances, and respect others who do the same," Warrick says. "When all else fails, laugh it off and make a resolution to handle (things) better the next time.

It's hard to be the person who won't join in a discussion about salaries, or who prefers to choose his own charities. Be that person anyway, if your budget depends on it or if you're simply tired of being pressured.

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Don't wreck your finances or your peace of mind to make other people feel better. Practice saying things like "Sorry, but I don't have any cash on me" or "I understand that others have given $20 to the wedding gift fund but my contribution will be $10."

Easy? Nope. But much classier than ducking out of the office.

More on MSN Money:

Jun 26, 2013 6:08PM
always call your credit card company and let them know when you are travelling. They will note that on your acct and not decline it for suspicious activity.
Jun 26, 2013 4:52PM

While on vacation, I've had my credit card blocked because of "unusal charges".


I guess the company couldn't put together a string of charges - airport, car rental agency, motel room...

Jun 26, 2013 4:33PM
Jun 26, 2013 4:13PM
The worst type is when the declining card co does not respond or say call, but sends an email to tell you to call the co(DISCOVER) because they are suspicious of a fraudulant transaction! Like I check my emails when shopping or dining.and when confronted with an irate call, solution? all further charges are thereafter declined. NO ryme or reason. Thanks DISCOVER, You are history.
Jun 26, 2013 8:20PM
I had a credit card declined and it turns out the company cancelled the card because it had carried a ZERO balance for almost 6 months. No e-mail..just "SUPRISE!". According to the company, since I had not used it since clearing the balance I therefore "didn't need or want it."  I don't do business with that bank or it's affiliates any more and advise my friends to do the same.
Jun 26, 2013 9:39PM

I don't avoid any awkward money moments, because if I can't afford it, I just say so.


And if someone tries to pressure me into "giving for THEIR worthy cause," I just let them know that I have MY OWN worthy causes, and give them a look that dares them to comment any further.


I've only had one person [a co-worker] make a rude comment on how "cheap" I was; told this person that it was MY money and not theirs; and since they didn't KNOW how much I was making, my giving or not was MY business and not theirs. I also threatened to go to personal with this person and her rude remarks, THAT shut them up real fast!!



Jun 27, 2013 12:46AM
As someone who works for a bank in the debit card department I feel I can respond to people who have commented on having debit card purchases declined while either on vacation or because of a data breach.  But before I do let me just say that both major debit sponsors we will call them V and MC have zero liability policies for cardholders.  Those policies mean that if there are fraudulent purchases made with one of their cards the cardholder cannot be held liable.  Those same companies also have agreements in place with merchants that as long as they follow the rules ie get a signature on the receipt ( and by signature they mean illegible scrawl or "Mickey Mouse" it doesn't really matter) the merchant is covered as well.  Online merchants can pay to be protected from having fraudulent changes sent back to them. That means the only player left to take the hit on those charges is the bank itself.  By the way I do not work for a "to big to fail" bank but a relatively small community bank.  Okay rant over, sorry. To the person who said to let your bank know when you will be traveling, you are absolutely correct.  Once the bank knows you will be doing so unusual or out of area purchases won't cause an issue.  As for putting together a plane ticket, hotel charges ect.  If you don't contact them prior to making those charges they have no way to know that it is you and not the person who skimmed your card or stole it.  When it comes to data breach issues it's a much trickier situation.  Most people realize that the breach didn't originate with the bank but that doesn't mean that we aren't the ones cleaning up the mess.  Of course everyone is concerned for their own personal situation and that's understandable but please realize that when it comes to major breaches you are talking about, at times, literally thousands of cards that are affected.  Calling thousands of customers is simply not feasible.  And because everything is done electronically once the criminals know that the card numbers they stole have been identified they start using them immediately before they are shut down.  It is and will always remain a balancing act for the bank to determine what the best course of action is in these situations. For smaller breaches or for the odd unusual charge the bank I work for does attempt to call our customers at all the numbers we have available to either verify a purchase or determine the best method to get that customer a new card. We do understand that for a lot of people that card is their lifeline. The best advice is to make sure your bank has all your current contact information and speaking personally always have a secondary form of payment available if possible. If that isn't feasible and you find yourself stuck in a situation where your card is denied either call your bank directly or contact the number on the back of the card itself most times something can be worked out to allow you to make your transaction.  Thanks for reading.
Jun 26, 2013 4:38PM
Yup...I pay my card off promptly after the statement date each month, but stuff still happens.  Got a call from the credit card company about a "suspicious" charge once (IIRC, it was a relatively big-ticket item I ordered online, so in a way, I'm glad they caught it.  At least I know they're watching just in case.), told them that yes, I had made the purchase, & thought everything was fine.  Little did I know that they had basically flagged my account, effectively killing my card, & somehow the person who called didn't remove the flag.  So I had my card declined twice the following day before I had a chance to call & find out what was going on.  Good thing I had some cash on me at the time!
Jun 26, 2013 5:49PM
My debit card was refused and my fear was that someone had cleaned out my account. It turns out that a fraud alert had been put on my card because it was being used in another state and I was glad the bank was looking out for my money but they could have called me to let me know. I had to go by the bank to find out what was going on.  Very embarrassing to someone who does pay his/her bills but people still give you that look....
Jun 26, 2013 10:58PM
You know what!!! It is awfully embarrassing when the waitress comes to the table, tosses your credit card at you while saying your card won't go through and the manager is with her. He gets even more belligerent and asks for one that will work. Thankfully, I was with my wife who began to laugh because we have many credit cards and pay off the balances every month. She requested to walk with the manager and have one of her cards swiped for the tab. He said OK, went to the cashier area, ran the card, it was accepted, and we left the restaurant. My wife did not leave a tip. We went directly to the bank that issued the card to me and was told by an officer of the bank "we sent notices to all card holders whose accounts were compromised". We received the letter a week after the incident. My wife is a redhead who has a temper like you can not believe. She took the letter to the restaurant, showed the manager, told him we were not deadbeats and was given a fifty dollar gift certificate for the unfortunate situation. Speaking with friends and relatives over the years has taught us it is not a rare occurrence.
Jun 26, 2013 5:33PM
This is my all-time favorite story. A few of my colleagues went out to dinner with another colleague visiting our office from another company office (he was traveling and had a business expense account) and when the bill came, he said "I can't pay for all of this!" and made the waitress split the bill down to every chicken wing and celery stick so that people could pay for their own meal - this was after he invited them out for a "dinner meeting!"
Jun 26, 2013 4:36PM
Jun 26, 2013 11:57PM
I had this happen off and on, especially when I've used a credit card a number of times and didn't realize that I reached its limit.  The worst case of a card being declined was when I tried to use a Shell Mastercard (from Citibank) to pay for a restaurant meal a few years back.  The card was declined, although I had over $1200 in available credit on it.  When I got home, I called Citibank and confirmed that there was available credit on the card, thinking it might have been a computer error on the restaurant's part.  I tried to use the card the next day to pay for a purchase at a store, but the card was again declined.  I called Citibank again, and asked to speak with a customer service representative.  I asked her why my card was being declined, although I have over $1200 in available credit on it, had always paid over the minimum payment, and never was late with a payment.  She explained that my account was closed because of "something on my Equifax credit report", and that I should have received a notice in the mail (which I got 2 weeks later.)  I later found out that Citibank closed THOUSANDS of Shell Mastercard accounts without advance warning, and others were complaining via various consumer-complaint websites about declined cards as well.  And most of these closed accounts were in good standing as well.  Because of these incidents, I don't want anything to do with either Shell Oil or Citibank any more.
Jun 26, 2013 6:24PM

I've had strange ones occur with my check card from time to time.  Check online banking, expecting yes, there to be money, to get the confirmation.  Go out, to pick something up from the store, a restaurant, what have you, to get a decline.  Check mobile banking, and it still shows a positive balance, by well more then what I'm charging to it.


No explanation, and the next day it's cleared up, without a decline in the account balance at all.  It hasn't happened often, but it has happened a few times over the years.  Luckily, I have a couple credit cards also, so can just pull one of those out.  But it is embarrassing, especially when I can triple check the account balance right there, and pull up, on the spot, that the money is right there.


One thing that can cause it, is buying gas off a check card, it does seem the gas pump one puts it in, will put a hold for more then one spent.  And even after the transaction clears...  For that reason, I do not use the check card for gasoline, would rather run a CC (doesn't happen on those), and then pay the card back through online access when I get home.  But that wasn't always what was going on...

Jun 27, 2013 6:22AM
I went to the auto-recycling center and my card was declined. I called my bank and they had cancelled my card. They had "suspicious activities" on my card; Someone tried to buy a ticket on a railroad in China and something about India. Once your money goes out of the country you won't get it back. Good for the bank, thank you.
Jun 26, 2013 11:48PM
Due to many life events I am that person probably called "cheap" at work. If asked I let people know I contribute much of my time, effort and resources to a local charity and extended family members in need. I no longer chip in for monetary gifts choosing to give personal gifts that I can afford. I think it is presumptuous to assume because a person doesn't contribute money to every cause they are cheap. It is my money after all and I save it for what's important to me and my family. I go to work to earn money, not to spend it.

Recently I had a credit card denied in the middle of a transaction at a supermarket. When I called to inquire I was told "We sent you an email....". Though I have a "smart" phone I am not constantly checking my email. Sheesh.

Jun 27, 2013 9:38AM
My credit card was declined only once - at a Morton's Steakhouse  - but it was MY FAULT. I forgot to notify the issuer of that particular credit card that my butt had left S/E Florida and was now in the Republic of Singapore.
Jun 27, 2013 8:33AM
I only use credit cards if I absolutely have to. I do have to say, though, I've never gotten a call for "fraudulent" purposes. I'll cross my fingers. Too many nightmare stories for me to ignore.
Jun 26, 2013 11:06PM

I received a call from our CC company. Seems someone had charged 2 items (separate charges) at a local jewelry store, within 15 minutes of each other. I started laughing. It was in early May (before Mother's Day) and my husband had been gone from home that morning.....seems he went to the jewelry store and bought me a beautiful Mother's necklace and an anniversary ring. (We were married in June.) He had to put them on separate transactions because he ordered the ring. We were happy that the CC company had the sense to call us, but he had thought he was going to surprise me! Oops! The guy from the company said he felt terrible! LOL

Jul 16, 2013 4:32PM
Tell them you're a member of the Dimocratic Party, and they will bill someone else.....
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