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Why was my American Express card declined?

There’s no worse feeling than attempting to complete a purchase, only to have your credit card come back declined. It can be frustrating, inconvenient and, let’s be honest, downright embarrassing. But there’s no reason to panic. There are a number of different reasons why your American Express card might have been declined and they’re not all bad.

If you are struggling to pay bills and make ends meet, the first thing you should do is reach out to customer service at American Express to discuss your options. The sooner you take control of your account and your spending habits, the easier it will be to get back on track. Not sure who to call? Check out our list of contacts at American Express

Otherwise, read on for a look at the most common reasons that your American Express card might have been declined.

8 Reasons Your American Express Might Have Been Declined

There are plenty of reasons your American Express might be declined, whether you’ve reached your credit limit, your card is flagged for suspicious activity, or you’ve simply made a user error when shopping online. Find out what you can do to avoid having your card declined.

1. Your Account is Maxed Out

Let’s start with the basics. If you have reached your credit limit, your card will be declined when you attempt to make a purchase. American Express strongly advises creating an online account and downloading the AmEx mobile app to your smartphone in order to track your spending, manage your payments, and keep your accounts in good standing. 

And if you’re looking for a bit more spending flexibility, you may want to consider an AmEx charge card with no preset credit limits such as the American Express Platinum Card.

2. You Have Multiple Missed Payments

Your American Express card will also be declined if you are not current on your credit card bills. This is a standard practice among credit card companies. If you’ve missed one or more payments, it is possible that you would be unable to make additional purchases using your credit card until you’ve paid your past due amount along with any applicable late fees or penalties. Once again, American Express strongly recommends using your online or mobile account management tools to ensure that you’ve at least made your minimum payment (though hopefully you’re paying a bit more) each month.

3. Your American Express Card is Expired

One simple reason your card might be declined is because the expiration date on your card has passed. As American Express explains, your credit card expires on the last day of the month listed as your expiration date. If you attempt to make purchases after that date, your card will be declined. You’ll need to activate a replacement card in order to resume making transactions with your AmEx account. Here’s the good news. According to AmEx, “well before the expiration date on your credit card arrives on the calendar, a new card with a new expiration date will likely have already arrived in your mailbox. This new card will have the same account number, of course, but it will bear a new expiration date – usually about three to five years down the road – and a new card verification value, or CVV. (That’s the three- or four-digit security code found on the back or front of the card, depending on.”

In order to use this new credit card, you will need to activate it. Check out our step by step instructions on how to activate your new card.

4. Incorrect Information Entered

Your American Express card may be declined because you’ve submitted incorrect information. If using a PIN to complete in person transactions, your card may be declined for entering an incorrect number. When shopping for online purchases, you will usually be required to provide your card number, expiration date, and CVV number. Any single erroneous digit will cause your card to be declined. This is actually a pretty common occurrence for those who have recently renewed, updated or replaced their credit cards. As noted above, when you get a new card from your credit card issuer, you will be assigned a new expiration date and CVV. If you have credit cards autosaved with any number of online merchants, you will need to update these numbers to avoid or correct declined transactions.

5. Merchant Error

It’s always possible that your declined transaction is the result of a glitch, transmission failure, or operator error. If your card is declined in a brick and mortar store but you know your account is in good standing, always ask the sales associate to run the card a second time. If it goes through the second time, it was likely a temporary malfunction on the part of the card reader or payment terminal.

6. Traveling Abroad

There are various security precautions that your credit card company may automatically take that can result in a declined transaction. For instance, if you are traveling to, and spending money in, a country where you have never been, American Express may flag your first transaction as potentially suspicious activity. This would result in a declined transaction and a notification, usually through your mobile app. It can be inconvenient, but it is a precautionary measure designed to protect you from fraud and identity theft. It can typically be corrected by simply confirming by email, text or phone that you are the user responsible for the transaction in question. You may also be able to avoid this occurrence altogether by notifying American Express of your travel plans in advance.

7. Unusually Large Purchase

Credit card issuers often automatically flag purchases that are out of the ordinary relative to your normal spending patterns. So if you attempt to buy a big ticket item like a piece of jewelry, a valuable painting, or a new dining room set, the transaction may be automatically declined. At this point, you can usually expect an email, text, or automated phone call from American Express confirming that you are attempting to make this purchase. Once your identification has been verified, you will usually be cleared to make your purchase without being declined. As with travel, it may be a good idea to notify your credit card issuer in advance if you plan to make an unusual purchase.

8. The Merchant Doesn’t Accept American Express

Your American Express card may not be accepted everywhere. Some small businesses and restaurants, for instance, do not take American Express because it carries higher than average merchant fees. If you attempt to make a purchase through a self-pay terminal with a merchant that doesn’t take American Express, your card will be declined. It’s always a good idea to carry a backup!

Check out our article on who does and doesn’t accept American Express in order to learn more.


If your card was declined because you’ve maxed out your American Express credit card, it’s time to get aggressive about paying off your credit card balances. Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done. For a few helpful tips, check out our article on how to pay off your outstanding credit card debts.