Understanding Your Credit Card Decline Codes

Table of Contents

  1. What Are Credit Card Decline Codes?
  2. List of Credit Card Decline Codes
  3. What’s the Difference Between a Hard Decline and a Soft Decline?
  4. What Does Decline Code 51 Mean?
  5. What Does Decline Code 05 Mean?
  6. What Does Decline Code 91 Mean?

A credit card being declined is never a fun experience. Many customers feel both a sense of frustration at the delay in making their purchase and a sense of embarrassment, worrying that anyone around might assume they're someone who spends money recklessly. Merchants know, however, that there are a wide variety of possible reasons for a credit card being declined. Some of these reasons can be resolved quickly and easily, while others require the merchant to ask for another method of payment or even take some other action requested by the issuer.

In order to respond properly to a declined credit card and salvage those transactions that can be salvaged, merchants need to be familiar with the decline codes they might receive and what those codes mean. Let's talk about the most common decline codes and how merchants should respond when they receive them.

New call-to-actionMost decline codes are sent early in the transaction process, when the merchant first attempts to obtain authorization to run the card.

A decline message doesn’t mean the transaction is a loss. Even if the customer doesn’t have an alternate payment method, many decline codes indicate errors or inconsistencies that can be corrected.

If this can be done, the merchant can keep attempting the transaction until the reasons for the decline are addressed and the transaction goes through. However, merchants need to be careful about getting the proper authorization and re-running transactions correctly, or else they could end up liable for authorization-related chargebacks down the line.

What Are Credit Card Decline Codes?

A credit card decline code is a two-digit alphanumeric code that indicates the reason why a credit card transaction was declined. These codes provide additional information for merchants that lets them know whether or not the transaction should be reattempted.

Many entities are involved in processing a credit card transaction. It starts with the merchant and the customer, but before any money actually changes hands, it will go through a payment processor, gateway, and the customer’s issuing bank. If any of these parties detects a problem with the transaction, they may reject it. If this happens, they will send back a decline code that specifies the reason why the transaction could not be processed.

Decline codes aren't completely uniform across all networks, but after a major effort in recent years to standardize these codes across the industry, there's now a standardized list of codes covering most situations.

Merchants will rarely encounter a network-specific decline code, but if they do, they'll need to reference that network's list of response codes in order to understand what it means.

List of Credit Card Decline Codes

Decline Code Meaning
01 Refer to issuer
02 Refer to issuer (special condition)
03 Invalid merchant
04 Pick up card (No fraud)
05 Do not honor
06 Error
07 Pick up card (fraud)
10 Partial approval
12 Invalid transaction
13 Invalid amount
14 Invalid account/ card number
15 No such issuer
19 Re-enter transaction
21 No action taken
25 Unable to locate record in file
28 File temporarily not available for update or injury
41 Lost card, pick up
43 Stolen card, pick up
51 Insufficient funds
52 No checking account
53 No savings account
54 Expired card
55 Incorrect PIN
57 Transaction not permitted - card
58 Transaction not permitted - terminal
59 Suspected fraud
61 Exceeds approval amount limit
62 Invalid/restricted service code
63 Security violation
64 Transaction does not fulfill AML requirement
65 Exceeds withdrawal limit/ activity limit
70 PIN data required
75 Allowable number of PIN entry tries exceeded
76 Unsolicited reversal
78 Blocked, first use
79 Already reversed
82 Negative CAM, dCVV, iCVV, or CVV results
85 No reason to decline
86 Cannot verify PIN
91 Issuer or switch unavailable
92 Unable to route transaction
93 Transaction can't be completed - violation of law
96 System error
97 Invalid CVV
1A Additional customer authentication required
R0 Recurring charge stopped at customer request
R1 Recurring charge stopped at customer request

What Are the Most Common Decline Codes?

The list of credit card decline codes is long—even longer if you were to include all those specific to one network or issuer—but some codes are more common than others. Codes 51 (insufficient funds) and 05 (do not honor) are especially common.

Here's a rundown of the most common decline codes:

  • 51 - Insufficient funds: At the time authorization was requested, the customer’s account did not have sufficient funds to cover the transaction.
  • 65 - Withdrawal limit exceeded: The transaction would exceed the maximum withdrawal amount on the account. This code may specify that the limit is daily, weekly, or monthly.
  • 05 - Do not honor: The issuer will not process the transaction. The customer will need to contact them for further details
  • 54 - Expired card: The card is past its expiration date.
  • 14 - Invalid card number: The card number provided does not match any active card in the issuer's database.
  • 97 - Invalid CVV: The CVV number provided does not match what the issuer has on file. Incorrect CVV numbers may also result in code 63, which indicates a security violation.
  • 94 - Duplicate transaction: The transaction details match an earlier transaction and the processor is flagging it to prevent an erroneous double charge.
  • R0 or R1 - Recurring charge stopped at customer request: The customer asked their bank to stop accepting a particular recurring charge.
  • 03 - Invalid merchant: The merchant may not have configured their payment processor software correctly.
  • 41 or 43 - Pick up card, lost or stolen: The card has been reported lost or stolen, and the issuer is asking the merchant to keep the card, if possible, and call them.

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to keep trying to run a card that had been reported lost or stolen, but it’s not unheard of to mistype a CVV number or expiration date. You can try to correct errors and attempt a transaction a second time when you understand which transactions are safe to retry and which should not be attempted again. The key is knowing the difference between hard and soft declines.

What’s the Difference Between a Hard Decline and a Soft Decline?

A soft decline is one that indicates the transaction can be reattempted. The second attempt may be approved if the problem that caused the first decline has been fixed. A hard decline is final. Transactions that receive hard declines should never be reattempted.

Aggressive anti-fraud tools at the processor level can sometimes cause soft declines. Your processor will have rules and guidelines for retrying soft-declined transactions. Review the information they have provided you and be especially careful about allowing automated retries. In a card-not-present environment, your system should ideally be set up to block repeated attempts at a transaction that has returned a hard decline code.

Manage Chargeback In-House Or OutshoreThe best way to recover sales in the case of hard declines is to offer the customer alternate payment methods. You can also offer to hold an item in reserve if they need to contact their bank to resolve a security flag or get their limit increased.

Merchants should never attempt to “brute force” a transaction without proper authorization, as these can result in chargebacks that they will be unable to fight. When you do work with a customer to get around a soft decline and obtain authorization for a transaction, make sure you carefully document the actions you took and retain that information as evidence in case they ever decide to dispute it. Good record-keeping can be crucial to successfully fighting a chargeback dispute.

Merchants may benefit from keeping a reference sheet on hand with a list of decline codes and instructions for employees on how to handle each. This allows employees to inform customers why their card has been declined and prevents any mix-ups involving retrying or not retrying a transaction.

Having consistent policies for handling various decline codes can help process any transactions that can be processed and prevent authorization-related chargebacks.

Nobody likes getting a decline code—not the customer, and certainly not the merchant—but they serve an important purpose by preventing problematic transactions from going through and alerting you to the issues that need to be resolved. When merchants understand the decline codes their processor returns, they can act quickly and decisively to recover sales by correcting transaction errors and offering alternative payment methods.

Emerging Trends in Credit Card Decline Prevention

As technology advances and the financial landscape evolves, the realm of credit card transactions experiences ongoing changes. Merchants keen on maintaining smooth transaction processes must stay informed about emerging trends in credit card decline prevention. This proactive approach ensures they can adapt to new challenges and continue providing seamless payment experiences for their customers.

Tokenization for Enhanced Security

One significant trend in credit card transactions is the increasing adoption of tokenization. Tokenization involves replacing sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, with unique identifiers or "tokens." These tokens are meaningless to would-be fraudsters, as they lack the necessary information to conduct unauthorized transactions. Merchants employing tokenization methods add an extra layer of security to their transactions, reducing the risk of declined transactions due to suspected fraud.

Biometric Authentication

Biometric authentication, including fingerprint and facial recognition technology, is gaining traction as a means of verifying a customer's identity. This trend not only enhances security but also streamlines the checkout process. By incorporating biometric data, merchants can reduce instances of declined transactions related to incorrect PINs or security violations. Customers benefit from a more convenient and secure payment experience, potentially leading to increased transaction approval rates.


Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are revolutionizing the way merchants handle credit card transactions. These technologies analyze vast amounts of data to detect patterns and anomalies, helping merchants identify potential issues before transactions are even attempted. By leveraging ML and AI, merchants can proactively address factors that might lead to declines, such as reaching withdrawal limits or encountering expired cards.

Dynamic Authorization Models

Traditional authorization models often rely on static rules, leading to false positives and declined transactions. Emerging trends involve the adoption of dynamic authorization models that take into account a broader range of factors. These models consider transaction history, spending patterns, and even contextual information, allowing for a more nuanced and accurate assessment of the transaction's legitimacy. Merchants utilizing dynamic authorization models can reduce the occurrence of false declines and provide a smoother experience for customers.

Enhanced Communication with Issuers

Effective communication with card issuers is becoming increasingly crucial in preventing unnecessary declines. Some transactions may trigger alerts due to their unusual nature, such as large purchases or transactions in foreign countries. Merchants that establish streamlined communication channels with card issuers can quickly resolve potential issues, preventing legitimate transactions from being declined. This proactive approach requires merchants to be proactive in addressing potential concerns raised by card issuers, ultimately improving transaction success rates.
In conclusion, staying abreast of these emerging trends in credit card decline prevention is essential for merchants looking to optimize their transaction processes. By incorporating advanced security measures, embracing new technologies, and fostering effective communication with card issuers, merchants can reduce the likelihood of declined transactions and provide a more seamless payment experience for their customers.


What Does Decline Code 51 Mean?

Code 51 typically indicates that there are insufficient funds in the cardholder's account to process the transaction. This should be handled by requesting that the customer use an alternate method of payment, if available.

What Does Decline Code 05 Mean?

Code usually means "Do not honor." Unfortunately, it's one of the less specific decline codes. It could mean that the billing address entered doesn't match, or that some other red flag has been triggered.

What Does Decline Code 91 Mean?

Code 91 typically indicates that a network communication error has occurred. It's typically safe to simply retry the transaction. Codes 85 and 00 can also indicate communication errors.

Thanks for following the Chargeback Gurus blog. Feel free to submit topic suggestions, questions or requests for advice to: win@chargebackgurus.com

Get the guide, Chargebacks 101: Understanding Chargebacks & Their Root Causes

Ready to Start Reducing Chargebacks?