Your debit card not working can be incredibly frustrating. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been in the situation where you have people lining up behind you, the “debit card declined” alert flashing menacingly, as you assure the cashier that you definitely have enough money on your card and that you have no idea what the problem is…
The truth is that there can be any number of reasons why your card is being declined. Some of them may be on your side (…are you sure you have sufficient funds on there? And is that definitely the right PIN?) but most are completely out of your hands.
Luckily, no matter why your debit card is blocked at the moment, there’s usually a very simple solution.
So keep reading to find out why your debit card isn’t working – and what you can do to fix it in just a few minutes.
Why is my debit card not working?
1. Insufficient funds
Probably the most common reason for your debit card not working is that there are insufficient funds on the card.
It’s never nice to be caught at the cashier and have to do that embarrassed mumble that “you’re sure there’s enough money“. But it’s okay – it happens and we’ve all been there before.
It’s also very possible that it’s not your fault. For example, your paycheck may be delayed or another deposit may be pending and you can’t use the money yet. Either way, you’ll have to find another way to pay for this purchase or leave it behind.
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2. Expired card
If your card is expired, it won’t be able to be used for transactions anymore.
Most banks will send you a new card a month or so before your current card expires, so if that hasn’t happened yet, it’s important to call your bank immediately and find out what’s going on. There may have simply been an oversight, but it’s also possible that someone has stolen your card from the mail.
If that’s the case, it’s good to let your bank know as soon as possible so they can take steps to make sure the other card can’t be used.
3. Daily transaction limit has been reached
Some cards will have a daily transaction limit meaning that once you reach that amount, your card won’t work any more.
These limits are in place for security reasons, to avoid someone taking your card and using it to wildly spend all your money. It’s for that reason the banks generally won’t recommend that you increase this limit.
That said, there are times when you may need to do so. If now is one of those times, give your bank a call to see if that can be done temporarily. Just make sure you follow their usual advice to drop the limit back down once you’re done so you know your money is protected.
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4. Incorrect PIN
It may sound obvious but if your debit card was declined, it’s possible that you’ve simply put the wrong PIN in.
This often happens to me when I switch my “main “card and I forget which PIN applies to each one. You also could have changed PINs recently, which is a natural cause for confusion.
You usually have a few attempts to enter a PIN, so give it another try and hopefully you’ll use the correct one next time.
5. Too many incorrect PIN attempts
Following on from the previous option, you could have a problem if there have been too many incorrect PIN attempts. If that’s what’s happened, your debit card won’t work until you call your bank and unblock it.
This is in place to prevent fraud so if you’re getting a message that there have been too many incorrect PIN attempts and you haven’t used your card today, it may be worth checking with your bank what’s happened when you call them.
That is, the systems may show that someone else has tried to use your card. If you don’t recognize any attempts to use the card that your bank is seeing in their system, let them know so that the appropriate steps can be taken.
6. Incorrect information entered
If your debit card isn’t working when you’re shopping online, double check that you’ve entered in the correct information. You may be one digit off with the card number or perhaps you’ve entered the CVC incorrectly.
Either way, unless everything aligns, you won’t be able to use your card for this purchase.
7. Damaged card
It’s also possible that your debit card is not working because the card is damaged. Sometimes this is obvious, especially if you can see any damage to the magnetic strip or the car is more bent than it should be.
Not all card damage is visible though, as extreme temperatures can affect how well it works, for example. The best solution here is simply to order a new card.
8. Bank has flagged transaction for being suspicious
Your card may have been blocked temporarily because your bank has flagged a transaction as being potentially suspicious.
Honestly, it’s sometimes hard to know when this will kick in. I was once traveling and despite me telling my bank that I would be in a certain country, my card was blocked when I tried to buy an app online from that country’s Apple Store – and it only cost a few dollars!
This can usually be resolved fairly quickly through a call to your bank to explain that you’re the card owner and that you’re happy for the transaction to go through. That said, if you get an alert for a suspicious transaction and you’re not currently using your card, it’s time to call your bank straight away to make sure your account stays blocked.
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9. Bank has identified other suspicious activity relating to your account
Sometimes it may not be one specific transaction that has raised a red flag with the bank. Instead, there could be other suspicious activity relating to your account that’s caused your debit card to stop working.
As with many other options on this list, it’s best to simply call your bank to sort this out. It’s possible that there’s been a mistake, but it’s also very possible that someone has tried to breach your account somehow.
Figuring out what’s happened and how to resolve it is both in your and your bank’s best interest.
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10. Technical problems
It may sound like a cop out to say “technical problems “, but issues somewhere along the line are a pretty common reason for your debit card to be declined.
Maybe the card machine in a store isn’t working properly, maybe the lines are down somewhere, maybe your bank is having some issues.
Whatever it is, these things aren’t always resolved straight away so if you need to make the purchase right now, it may be better to simply switch to cash or a different card.
11. Card hasn’t been activated yet
Is it your first time using a new debit card? If so, the reason for your debit card to not be working could simply be that you’ve forgotten to activate it.
I’ve definitely been caught by this before and while you can feel pretty dumb, it’s not the end of the world. You also can often do it on the spot, with a lot of bank apps now allowing you to activate your card through your phone.
If that’s you, simply jump on your app and see if that’s an option. You should be able to immediately use the card from there.
12. Joint account holder deactivated the card
If you jointly own the account with someone else, you may want to check that they haven’t blocked or deactivated the card for some reason.
This may very well have been done for a valid purpose, such as due to a security issue. However, if the joint account holder has deactivated the card without telling you and it doesn’t seem to be due to a good reason, it’s definitely time for a serious discussion regarding management of and access to any joint finances.
13. Store doesn’t accept your card type
This one isn’t as common these days, especially if you’re using a major card type like Visa, Maestro or MasterCard, but there is a possibility that the card you’re trying to use isn’t accepted at the store you’re trying to buy from.
This can definitely be an issue if you have an American Express card, for example. If that’s the situation, the only solution is to use another card or cash, unfortunately.
14. Blocked due to an international purchase
Some banks won’t allow you to make an international purchase using your bank card until you give express approval. This is to stop fraud from people based overseas, which is increasingly common these days.
So while it may seem annoying, it’s definitely for the greater good when it comes to protecting your money. This means that if you’re getting that message from your bank, give them a call to sort it out.
15. Additional information is needed from you
Sometimes, especially when you’re shopping online, a transaction won’t be able to go through until you provide some sort of additional information. This may involve entering a code that is sent to you via SMS or could involve you accepting the transaction in an app.
Either way, the reason that your debit card is declined could simply be that you haven’t taken this extra step. Double check any messages that are appearing on screen, as the website that you’re buying from will usually tell you when this is needed through their secure payment system.
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16. Card cannot be used in certain countries
If you’re travelling at the moment and your debit card is not working, it could be worth checking that you’re able to use your card in the country you’re in.
Some banks don’t even allow their cards to be used internationally, although that’s rare these days. It’s more common now that you have things like reduced daily spending limits when you’re overseas.
But there is a chance in certain countries that your bank can’t operate, such as if there are international sanctions in place. This isn’t common and it’s likely you’ll know about this before travelling to a country like this.
That said, if you’re in a country where that’s a possibility, it may be worth contacting your bank to see if that’s the issue so that you can make alternative arrangements.
17. Vendor made a mistake
There’s always a chance that your debit card’s not working simply because the vendor has made a mistake. Perhaps they had to enter in your details manually and missed a number or maybe they simply pressed the wrong button on the cash register.
Whichever it is, most people‘s first reaction when their card is declined is to ask the cashier to run it again. That usually gives the cashier the chance to restart the transaction, allowing them to correct any mistakes they may have made during the process.
How do you unlock a debit card?
To unlock a debit card, first login to your bank account either through your bank’s app or your browser, as sometimes there is an option to unlock it there, especially if it’s a new card that needs to be activated. If there is no option for this available, call your bank for their help in unlocking the card.
For almost all situations where a debit card has been locked due to suspected fraud, including things like entering the PIN too many times, you’ll probably have to call your bank to sort this out. This is so that they can verify that no one else is trying to access your account.
This will usually involve going through a few security questions, meaning it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to unlock your debit card.
Why is my debit card not working at an ATM?
Your debit card may not be working at an ATM because of a problem with your card, the information you have entered or even the ATM itself. For example, you may have entered the wrong PIN or perhaps the ATM is out of order. Alternatively, there could be an issue on the bank’s side that’s stopping the transaction.
Before spending time wondering why the ATM rejected your card, the most simple step is just to try the transaction again. Sometimes the lines go down momentarily or you may have accidentally entered the wrong PIN the first time, meaning that doing it again could resolve the issue.
If, however, your debit card still isn’t working after a second attempt, it may be worth further investigating, especially to see if your bank has blocked the card for some reason.
Why is my debit card being declined when I have money in my account?
Even if you have money in your account, your debit card can be declined for a number of reasons. The bank could have blocked the card for fraud prevention, the store may not accept your card type, the card could be damaged or have expired or you may have entered the wrong PIN.
If it just appears to be a one-off problem, it could be the store itself or the machine they’re using which is having issues, so try to find an alternative.
However, if your debit card’s not working in shops more generally and you’re sure that the card type should be accepted and that you’re entering the correct information, it may be worth calling your bank to see what the problem may be.
How do you fix a declined debit card?
The process for how to fix a declined debit card is generally as follows:
- Try the transaction again – Sometimes there can be a one-off problem that is fixed simply by swiping the card again.
- Check you have funds in the account – This is the most obvious problem if a debit card is declined and is easily fixed.
- Double check you’re providing the right information – Have you changed the PIN recently and you accidentally entered the old one? If you’re shopping online, did you enter the card number correctly and did you approve the transaction through your bank’s app, if that’s needed?
- Call your bank or card provider – They’ll be able to check the issue immediately and help you to fix it. Just make sure that you’re the one calling them, as a common scam is for fraudsters to call you posing as your bank when they’re trying to access your account – which may very well be why the card has been blocked in the first place.
Why can’t I use my debit card online?
There can be a number of reasons why your debit card isn’t working for online purchases. If it’s not due to a problem on your end, such as entering the wrong card information, or something like insufficient funds, it’s likely due to a security feature where you have to verify the purchase before using the debit card online.
These often don’t require you to actually call the bank and speak with someone in order to verify the purchase. Instead, it will usually appear as a notification from your bank’s app in your phone.
At that point, you’ll generally have to tap a button and verify it’s you, whether that’s by entering a code or letting your phone scan your face or finger, to confirm that you actually want to spend the money online in this way.
If, after all this, your debit card is still not working online, call your bank or provider to sort it out.
Why does my Visa Debit not work online?
Your Visa Debit may not work online due to something simple, like there being insufficient funds in the account, or because your card has been blocked by your bank as a security measure. It could also be a problem with the site where you’re trying to make your purchase.
In such cases, whether it’s a Visa Debit, a credit union or a US bank debit card not working, the easiest solution is usually to just call your bank. They’ll almost always be able to immediately identify the problem and help you through it.
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Final thoughts on your debit card not working
There’s no question that your debit card not working can be incredibly annoying, especially if you’re in a rush or really need access to your money right now.
But in most cases, this is usually a very simple problem to fix. With just a few taps in your bank’s app or a quick call to your card provider, any blocks can usually be lifted in just a few minutes.
And if the issue does take longer than that to resolve, just keep in mind that these problems often arise due to the need for having security measures in place. This means that while it may be annoying in the short term, at least you know that the appropriate fraud prevention checks are in place to protect your money.
That doesn’t help though if, say, you’ve just put gas in your car and have no way to pay for it because of that pesky “debit card declined” message.
In cases like that, especially if the issue isn’t because of something like insufficient funds on your side, one solution can be to ask your bank to temporarily add credit to your debit card. This lets you borrow money for a short period of time – just make sure you pay it back as soon as you can to avoid interest incurring and to maintain a good credit score.
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About the author
Anna is the founder of LogicalDollar and a personal finance expert, having been featured on Forbes, HuffPost, Reader’s Digest, MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, CreditCards.com and many more. She’s committed to helping others get on the path to financial freedom using the experience gained from turning $60,000 in debt into a six-figure investment portfolio. Find out more.