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How to read and understand credit card decline codes

When everything goes right, accepting credit or debit card payments makes things simpler and more convenient for both the customer and the merchant; card purchases certainly avoid the hazards of miscounting change or running out of small bills. However, sometimes things don’t go right with card transactions, which can be embarrassing for the customer and may mean the loss of a sale for you as the merchant. However, having a solid understanding of the various declined codes that occur when a card transaction fails can help you respond to the problem quickly and appropriately, helping you resolve the issue and complete the transaction, avoid fraud, and retain customer loyalty by handling awkward situations with grace and discretion.

Understanding Credit Card Decline Codes

These codes can result from a failed transaction either at a physical point-of-sale in a store setting or via ecommerce. The specific code returned indicates the type of problem that caused the transaction to fail. The potential causes for you to receive a credit card declined code are numerous, and can include:

  • The card has expired or was cancelled
  • The card has not yet been activated
  • The cardholder has missed payments
  • The card’s spending limit has been reached or exceeded
  • Fraudulent activity is suspected
  • The card type is incompatible with your account
  • A data entry error has been made
  • The card or your card reader is damaged
  • There is an issue with the cardholder’s account

List of Common Credit Card Decline Codes

01 Refer to issuer

  • Meaning: The cardholder’s issuing bank has blocked the transaction.
  • Action: Apologize to the customer (you’re not to blame, but this shows empathy and understanding) and request a different card. If they don’t have another card, suggest they call the credit card company to find out what’s wrong and resolve the issue. Generally a toll-free number appears on the card. If you are in a retail setting, remain quiet and discreet, and direct your customer to a comfortable area of the store where they can address the issue.

02 Refer to issuer (special condition)

  • Meaning: Similar to 01, the cardholder’s bank has blocked the transaction.
  • Action: The same as 01; ask for another payment method or suggest they contact the card issuer.

04 Hold-call or Pick up card

  • Meaning: The issuing bank has blocked the transaction because of a suspected problem – which may include a lost or misplaced card, expired card, or fraud
  • Action: Unfortunately, the merchant is required to seize the card. The toll-free number that appears on most cards can be called for further guidance on what to do next.

05 Do not honor

  • Meaning: The issuing bank has blocked the transaction and is explicitly instructing you not to honor the card as a form of payment.
  • Action: Double-check that the customer’s billing address is correct, as sometimes an error here can result in this denied code. Otherwise, ask for an alternate form of payment or advise the customer to call the issuer at their toll-free number.

06 Other error

  • Meaning: Unidentified error with the issuing bank.
  • Action: Try running the card again to see if the error resolves itself. If it does not, ask the customer for an alternate form of payment.

07 Hold-call or Pick up card (special condition)

  • Meaning: Like 04, the issuer’s bank is blocking the transaction, but in this case, the reason is suspicion of fraud.
  • Action: Do not accept any form of payment from this customer. Take the card and discreetly call the toll-free number, ideally in a back room out of sight or earshot of this or other customers.

10 Partial approval

  • Meaning: The bank authorizes payment for only a portion of the transaction; this is likely because the cardholder’s credit limit or available funds does not cover the entire cost of the transaction.
  • Action: Inform the customer and ask them for another form of payment to supplement or replace the declined card.

12 Invalid transaction

  • Meaning: You may have made an error while keying in the details of the transaction.
  • Action: Check or reenter all billing and purchase information you entered. If you find no errors, start the transaction over from the beginning.

13 Invalid amount

  • Meaning: This is definitely a merchant-side error; the dollar amount entered was invalid. It may be positive for a refund or negative for a purchase, or may include a non-numerical character.
  • Action: Re-enter the amount and retry.

14 Invalid card number

  • Meaning: Like 13, this indicates a typing error, but with the credit card number.
  • Action: Re-enter the card number and retry.

15 No such issuer

  • Meaning: Like 14, this is a typing error in the card number. Specifically, it starts with the wrong digit. Each of the four major credit cards starts with a particular number:
    • American Express: 3
    • Visa: 4
    • Mastercard: 5
    • Discover: 6
  • Action: Re-enter the card number, with specific attention to the first digit, and retry.

19 Re-enter

  • Meaning: Something didn’t work, but the payment processor doesn’t know why.
  • Action: Try the transaction again. If it fails again, either the customer or the merchant may need to call the issuer’s toll-free number (give the choice to the customer).

25 POS condition code invalid value

  • Meaning: Similar to 14 and 15; something is wrong with the card and billing information that was entered.
  • Action: Carefully re-enter the information and retry.

28 File is temporarily unavailable

  • Meaning: Your connection may have been interrupted during the authorization process.
  • Action: Wait a short time and retry. If this doesn’t work, you may need to contact either the issuing bank or your merchant account provider.

41 Hold call, Pick up card (fraud account)

  • Meaning: The issuing bank has blocked the transaction because the cardholder has reported the card lost or stolen, and the card has been “frozen.”
  • Action: Either deny serving the customer or request payment in cash, then contact the toll-free number on the card to report the incident to the issuing bank.

43 Lost/stolen card, Pick up (fraud account)

  • Meaning: Again, the cardholder has reported the card missing or stolen, and fraud is suspected.
  • Action: Like 41, deny service or insist on cash, then report the incident to the issuer.

51 Insufficient funds

  • Meaning: The cardholder has reached or exceeded their credit limit.
  • Action: Apologize for the inconvenience and request an alternate form of payment; you may also suggest they contact the credit card company to address the issue or increase their credit limit.

54 Expired card

  • Meaning: The expiration date on the card has elapsed, and the card is no longer valid.
  • Action: Double-check that you entered the expiration date correctly; if so, request an alternate form of payment.

57 Transaction not permitted – card

  • Meaning: The credit card isn’t properly configured for the type of transaction being attempted.
  • Action: Provide details of the transaction to the customer and suggest they contact their issuing bank to request authorization for the transaction.

58 Transaction not permitted – terminal

  • Meaning: The problem is on your end; your merchant account isn’t set up to process this type of transaction.
  • Action: Contact your merchant account provider representative or support for help with reconfiguring your account.

61 Exceeds issuer withdrawal limit

  • Meaning: The cardholder has already spent or withdrawn an amount that meets or exceeds their account limits.
  • Action: Request an alternate form of payment or suggest the customer contact their issuing bank.

62 Invalid service code, restricted

  • Meaning: While all merchant accounts accept Visa and Mastercard, some choose not to accept American Express and/or Discover, due to high fees and chargeback rates. The customer is attempting to pay with a card type your merchant account doesn’t accept. Alternately, the customer is attempting to make an online payment with a card that is not compatible for online transactions.
  • Action: If the issue is with your inability to accept AmEx/Discover cards, apologize and ask for an alternate form of payment. Be prepared for customer displeasure, and have a compassionate response ready. If the issue is with online payment incompatibility, have an appropriate error message implemented that instructs customers to use a different card or contact their bank.

63 Card is restricted or security violation

  • Meaning: The card reader is struggling with the card’s CVV or CID (the three- or four-digit security code).
  • Action: Inform the customer that you can try the transaction again without using the security code, but that their bank may flag the transaction as fraudulent. Proceed according to customer wishes.

65 Activity limit exceeded or insufficient funds

  • Meaning: The customer has exceeded their credit limit, or exceeded their maximum number of transactions per specified period of time.
  • Action: Similar to other like codes, ask for an alternate payment method or suggest they contact their issuing bank.

78 No account, no such account exists, invalid account, or nonexistent account

  • Meaning: The bank no longer recognizes the account, possibly because it’s no longer active or something else is amiss.
  • Action: Ask for an alternate payment method, and suggest that the customer reach out to their credit card company at home to resolve the issue.

85 OR 00 Issuer system unavailable or no reason to decline

  • Meaning: Minor technical difficulties, a communication error of some kind.
  • Action: Retry the transaction. If the problem continues or recurs, contact your payment processor.

91 Issuer or switch is unavailable

  • Meaning: Another type of communication error; in this case, the problem is with the authorization communication.
  • Action: Retry the transaction.

92 Unable to route transaction

  • Meaning: Your payment terminal is unable to contact or interface with the card issuer’s computers.
  • Action: As with 91, just retry the transaction.

93 Violation, cannot complete

  • Meaning: There is an issue of some kind with the customer’s credit card account, causing the issuer to block the transaction.
  • Action: As with similar errors, request an alternate payment method or suggest they contact the issuer.

96 System malfunction / system error

  • Meaning: Technical difficulties.
  • Action: Wait a short time and retry. If the transaction still fails, contact your payment processor. They may instruct you to ask the customer to contact their bank also.

97 Invalid CVV

  • Meaning: The CVV (the Card Verification Value, typically a three-digit code on the back of the card – although American Express has four-digit codes on the front) is incorrect.
  • Action: Check whether you’ve made an error entering the CVV code. Some cards might have multiple three- and four-digit numbers, making the actual CVV code harder to identify. If the error message persists, try one of the other numbers.

R0 or R1

  • Meaning: This code is specifically intended for businesses that charge recurring payments or subscription services; it indicates that the customer has instructed the card issuer not to allow recurring payments from your business.
  • Action: Contact the customer to find out why they are blocking your charges. It is important to take prompt action to cease charging the customer’s card in order to avoid chargebacks.

Reducing Credit Card Decline Codes

As long as your business accepts credit cards, you will never completely eliminate declined cards, but you can reduce the incidence of many declined codes with a few precautions. First, train all POS employees to take care in inputting and verifying all transaction details before attempting to run the transaction, to avoid error codes. Using systems that save customer billing details can also reduce the “human error” element while providing a smoother checkout experience. In addition, upgrading your payment processing tech stack can reduce the rates of “technical difficulties” declined codes, minimizing customer frustration at the point of sale, and ensuring that more of your transactions result in successful sales.

Contact us today to learn about our payment processing options and reduce your decline codes!