Why Your Credit Card Won't Work

Payment by credit card
••• Thanit Weerawan / Getty Images

The worst time to find out your credit card isn’t working is when you’re in the middle of a transaction, particularly an in-person transaction. Depending on the issue, you may be able to fix it right away, or you might have to use another payment method. Worst-case scenario, you’ll have to save your purchase until you fix your credit card issue. Here are some reasons your credit card may not work.

It’s New, and You Haven’t Activated It

New credit cards are affixed with a sticker with instructions for activating your new credit card. Typically, you only have to call a 1-800 number and enter the last four of your social security number or the billing zip code. The call will only take a few moments, and your credit card is activated right away. Some credit card issuers let you activate your credit card online or via a smartphone app, but calling may be quicker.

It’s Expired

Your credit card may stop working during and especially after your expiration month. If you think your credit card has expired, check your mail. Your credit card issuer has probably sent a replacement credit card already. Otherwise, call your credit card issuer to find out whether a new credit card is on the way.

Your Issuer Has Sent a New Card

If your credit card number has been compromised, for example after a major data breach, your credit card issuer may automatically send a new credit card and cancel the old one. Many credit card issuers are sending more secure credit cards with EMV chips. Your card issuer may deactivate your credit card after the new card has been mailed to you. Once you receive your new credit card, make sure to call and activate it so you can use it.

It’s Been Demagnetized or Scratched

The magnetic strip on some credit cards may stop working after the card has been too close to a magnet or sometimes a cell phone. When the credit card has been demagnetized, there may be a credit card read error or nothing will happen after the swipe. Scratches or bends on the magnetic strip may also prevent your credit card from being swiped. Your card number can still be manually entered, but you’ll have to get a new credit card to make swipe purchases.

There Are Technical Issues With Your Credit Card Issuer, the Merchant, or the Payment Processor

Credit card transactions processed electronically. The information passes through a few different layers before the transaction is approved. Technical difficulties at any stage can cause issues with your payment processing. The merchant may be able to hold your credit card information and run the transaction once the technical issues have been resolved.

You Don’t Have Enough Available Credit

Your credit card may be declined if you don’t have enough available credit for the transaction. You can't make a payment right away to free up some available credit, (unless the card is linked to your checking account), so it’s best to use another payment method if you don't have enough credit.

There’s Been Fraud on Your Account

Your credit card may stop working if your credit card issuer suspects fraud on your account. This can happen in cases of legitimate fraud, for example, someone is using your credit card to make purchases in another state. It can also happen when you make purchases that are out of the ordinary for your typical spending habits. For example, your credit card issuer may suspect fraud if you spend more than you usually do in a day.

You’re Entering the Wrong Billing Information

Online purchases require you to enter the billing information as it appears on your credit card statement. Your credit card won’t work if your billing information is wrong, even if everything else is accurate. Verify all the credit card information you've entered matches your credit card statement. 

If your credit card continues to give you problems, you may have to request a replacement credit card. Many credit cards send a new credit card for free with the same account number, except in cases of fraud. Use a backup form of payment while you're waiting to receive the new credit card in the mail.