It’s a situation no one wants to be in: you’re at the register paying for your purchase, and the salesperson hands you back your credit card telling you it’s been declined.

Besides frustration and embarrassment, there is the confusion of wondering what happened. There are many reasons your credit card could be declined, and you often won’t know why until you call up your credit card company to ask.

Don’t panic. Sometimes credit cards get turned down for reasons meant to protect you. It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.

After you decide whether you pay using another card, pay with cash, or cancel the purchase until you can make other arrangements, call up your credit card company as soon as possible. The number will be on the back of the card. Be prepared to give the person on the other end of the line identifying information such as your mailing address, birthday, mother’s maiden name, and possibly the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Here are some of the reasons why your card may have been rejected:

  • Unfamiliar transactions. Sometimes your card issuer will put a hold on your card if you’ve been spending money out of town or in unusual places. This can happen while on vacation. It’s no fun to have your relaxing getaway interrupted by a credit card getting cancelled or frozen, so do yourself a favor and notify your credit card issuer before going out of town. They can put a note on your account and prevent your card from being put on fraud alert.
  • Too many transactions. This is another case when your card issuer is trying to protect you. If you don’t use your card often, and suddenly take it on a shopping spree, this could look suspicious. Your credit card company may have a hold placed on it until the issuer can verify that you are indeed making the transactions. A phone call will usually clear this up quickly, and your card will be able to be used again.
  • Over the limit. Another possibility is that you’ve lost track of how much you’ve charged to your credit card, and you’re over your credit limit. Sometimes, the charge will go through, resulting in an over-the-limit fee. So if your card is declined instead, count yourself lucky that you may have avoided that expensive mistake.
  • Late payment. If you’re late on a payment, your card issuer will often put a freeze on your account until you’ve brought it up to date. In this case, you know what to do: make that payment. To avoid this happening, set up automatic payments so that at least the minimum due will be paid each month before the due date.

Having your card turned down is no fun, but it’s not the end of the world. Stay calm and call your card issuer to find out what’s going on. Then be sure to keep your account current, make payments on time, and get in touch with your card issuer before traveling so it doesn’t happen again.

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