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Most Common Credit Card Decline Codes: What Do They Mean?

Declined transactions are painfully common for both merchants and customers - they are as old as credit cards themselves, and businesses have been facing the consequences of declined credit cards since the 1920s.

2022-04-11

Declined transactions are painfully common for both merchants and customers - they are as old as credit cards themselves, and businesses have been facing the consequences of declined credit cards since the 1920s.

According to a study conducted by Ethoca, over 1.9 billion card-not-present purchases are declined each year across the globe - a number that represents the mind-blowing $145 billion dollars in sales.

And if that was not enough, VISA and Mastercard report that over 15% of recurring payments are declined, a percentage that can go even higher for certain industries.

However, while declined transactions represent a quite familiar experience for merchants and customers, the reason why this happens can vary greatly, and in many occasions, it is not clear at all.

In this article, we will talk about the most common credit card decline codes, and what each one of them means.

What is a credit card decline code?

A credit card decline code is a numerical code that appears on the credit card processor when the transaction hasn’t been completed successfully. These codes help merchants understand what exactly happened to prevent the transaction from going forward, and what caused the error in the first place.

Before a transaction is deemed successful, it will go through a variety of approval stages - from the issuing bank through the payment gateway and then the payment processor.

Errors may occur at any stage of the payment process, which is why these codes are so important. They provide the information that merchants need in order to understand at what stage the error occurred, and what can be done in order to manage it.

What are the two types of credit card declines?

There are two types of credit card declines: soft declines and hard declines. Soft declines are temporary authorization issues that can happen during a transaction, meaning that the cardholder can try again later with the same payment information. Hard declines, on another hand, happen when the issuing bank of the customer rejected the payment - they are permanent and the payment should not be retried.

1. Soft declines

Soft declines occur when the payment has been approved by the issuing bank, but the transaction failed at some point of the payment process as a result of a technical issue. Some common reasons for that include:

Lack of funds in the credit card

A decline by the payment processor

Limits on the credit card

The IP address and the billing address don’t match

The card has expired

These transaction failures are usually temporary, which means that the cardholder can retry the payment later, or when the issue behind the decline has been solved.

2. Hard declines

Hard declines occur when the payment has been rejected by the issuing bank. As opposed to soft declines, hard declines are permanent authorization failures, and they should not be retried with the same payment data.

In most occasions, hard declines are associated with payment fraud or suspicious activity, for example:

The credit card has been reported as stolen

The card contains invalid information

Or the account of the cardholder has been closed.

After a hard decline, retrying the transaction with the same card will not work. In this case, there is very little that merchants can do to resolve the issue on their side.

When this happens, the customer will have to resolve the failure on their own by contacting the issuing bank or the payment processor.

But what’s more, there are some providers adding a different response code for those who are not very savvy about error codes. The advice or recommendation codes simplify the whole decision making when a payment is denied.

As a difference, if the hard and soft declines classification helps to understand the response from the issuer, the advice or recommendations codes help to take control of all the process, also the gateway; and since it’s note constraint by the card scheme rules or the issuers restrictions, it can be applied as a rule of thumb independently of where it is applied.

The recommendation code will advise whether it is a good option to retry, or otherwise if you would rather refrain from retying a payment. Or else if you here is not enough information, so you can trust your guts.

MYMOID, for example, is offering this recommendation code as an additional feature to make further decisions. Furthermore, since it’s part of the synchronous response of a payment intent, it is very helpful to program retries, or to offer an alternative payment method to the customer to accomplish a payment successfully on the go.

Most common credit card decline codes and what they mean

Code 00: Successful transaction

This means that the transaction has been approved and processed successfully, in which case no further action is needed on the merchant’s or the customer’s side.

Code 01: Refer to card issuer

This is one of the most common credit decline codes, and it means that the issuing bank (Mastercard, VISA, etc.) has prevented the transaction from happening without mentioning a specific reason.

This code is categorised as a soft decline. In this case, the customer would have to use an alternative payment method, or call the issuing bank to understand the exact reason why the transaction couldn’t go through.

Code 02: Refer to card issuer - special condition

This code usually indicates that there was an issue with the credit card data. The course of action is similar to code 01 - the customer would either have to complete the payment with an alternative method, or call the bank to understand the exact issue behind it.

Normally it is related to fraud risk or deactivated payment card.

Code 03: Invalid merchant

When the terminal or gateway shows this error code, it usually means that there is a configuration error in which the merchant login ID appears invalid, or the account is inactive.

In the case of physical card machines, it can also mean that the Chip and PIN terminal aren’t properly connected to the merchant account.

Code 04: Pick up card

Next on our list of credit card decline codes is 04: Pick up card, and it means that the card has been reported as lost or stolen.

However, it doesn’t imply that there has been a fraudulent transaction - in most cases, it’s a decline as a result of overdrawn cards or expired ones.

Code 05: Do not honor

This code falls within the category of soft credit card declines. It means that the customer’s bank has prevented the transactions, telling the merchant not to honor the card.

There can be multiple reasons why this happens - for example, if the entered billing address doesn’t match, the customer is in another country, or if there is any red flag that may have been triggered.

The best course of action would be calling the bank to understand what has happened.

Code 06: Error

This code means that something went wrong with the transaction, but the issuing bank can’t specify the exact reason for the error. If the issue persists, the best course of action is to call the bank to ask for a more specific reason.

Code 07: Pick up card

Next on our list of credit card decline codes is “pick up card”. When this code appears, it usually means that the customer’s bank has stopped the transaction because the card has been marked as fraudulent.

As a merchant, if this is a one-time transaction, avoid running the card again or providing any goods or services to the cardholder until the issue has been clarified.

Code 08: Honour with identification

This code means that the transaction has been processed successfully, and no identification is required. Some banks return this code instead of a 00 response.

Code 09: Request in progress

This is a type of soft decline in which the card issuer indicates that there has been a problem with the credit card number. When this happens, the customer should either contact their bank for more information, or try using a different payment method.

Code 10: Partial amount approved

This one of our credit card decline codes means that the issuing bank accepts a part of the payment, but blocks the rest.

This is typically a soft decline and it can happen if the cardholder has exceeded their credit card limit, or if they don’t have enough funds in their account.

Code 12: Invalid transaction

This type of soft decline indicates that the attempted transaction has been invalid.

It means that the issuing bank does not accept the transaction, which can be for a variety of reasons - for example, if the entered information is not correct, or if the cardholder is trying something unusual such as refunding a refund.

Code 13: Invalid amount

Code 13 is one of the most common credit card decline codes, and it simply indicates that the amount entered for the transaction is not valid. For example, if the cardholder has entered the currency sign along with the amount.

In this case, the solution is simple - the user can simply re-start the transaction entering the correct amount in the correct format.

Code 14: Invalid card number

This code is a type of soft decline that indicates that the number of the credit card is not correct, which means that the credit card processor can’t find the correct account.

In this case, the user can start the transaction over again and make sure that all the digits are entered accurately.

Code 15: No such issuer

This decline happens when the first digit of the credit card number has been entered incorrectly.

This number identifies the issuing bank of the credit card (for example, 3 is for American Express and 5 is for Mastercard), so if it isn’t correct, the payment processor won’t be able to identify it properly.

Code 16: Issuer does not identify gambling payout

This decline arises if you are trying to cash out money from your gambling app, but your issuer won’t accept the transaction.

Code 17: Customer cancellation

You will get this error code if your customer has cancelled the operation on their side before reaching out to you. Although it's not very common nowadays, it may happen if your payment process is asynchronous or it has been delayed for some reason.

Code 19: Re-enter

Next on our list of credit card decline codes is Re-enter, which means that an unknown error has occurred. In this case, the cardholder can restart the transaction and make sure that all the data is entered correctly.

Code 21: No action taken

This code represents a soft decline error, indicating that there is a problem with the credit card number according to the customer’s card issuer. In this case, it is advised that the customer uses an alternate payment method or calls their bank.

Code 22: Suspected malfunction

When it comes to common credit card decline codes, a suspected malfunction means that the card issuer could not be contacted during the transaction.

In this case, the customer can try processing the transaction later.

Code 23: Unacceptable transaction fee

When this code shows up, it means that an unspecified bank error has occurred. In this occasion, the customer should either attempt to process the transaction again, or call his bank to receive more information about the issue.

Code 25: Unable to locate record on file

When this soft decline occurs, it means that the issuing bank of the cardholder doesn’t recognize the details of the credit card.

In this case, it is recommended to re-check the card details and try processing the payment again later.

Code 28: File update file locked out

Code 28 on our list of common credit card decline codes means that an error occurred during the authorization process of the transaction.

Typically, the specific reason isn’t indicated, but the customer can try restarting the transaction and ensuring that all information is entered correctly. If the issue persists, he can contact his bank or merchant provider.

Code 30: Format error

Format error is a type of soft decline during which the credit card issuer of the customer can’t recognize the transaction as a result of wrongly formatted payment details.

In this case, the customer should re-check the information to make sure that everything is entered in the correct format.

Code 31: Bank not supported by Switch

This credit card decline code indicates that the transaction has been declined by the issuing bank. It usually means that the specific card can’t be used for the type of transaction that the customer is initiating (mail, phone, fax, email, Internet orders, etc.)

Code 33: Expired card

This is one of the most common credit card decline codes, and it usually means that either the date of the credit card has expired, or the expiry date has been entered incorrectly.

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