Why your debit card is blocked and how to fix it

Why is your debit card blocked?

Debit cards can be blocked for many reasons including:

  1. Suspicious activity
  2. Making a suspicious or unusual purchase
  3. Incorrectly entering the PIN
  4. Expired debit card
  5. Inactive debit card
  6. Overdrafted account
  7. Purchase confirmation required
  8. Transaction limit has been reached
  9. Your card has a hold on it
  10. Funds are frozen due to traveling
  11. Technical errors.

Having blocked a debit card or debit card purchase can be a huge inconvenience. There are many reasons why a block can occur, but, luckily, there are also simple solutions. 

Luckily for you, I’ll show you the most common reasons your debit card may be blocked. I’ll even show you how to unblock your debit card depending on the issue. You’ll be on your way to using your debit card in no time.

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Reasons Your Debit Card Might Be Blocked

Let’s dive into the possible reasons why your debit card is blocked and how to fix it.

1. There Is Suspicious Activity on Your Account

The most common reason debit cards are blocked is because of suspicious activity on your card. If you use your card at an ATM in another state or even country, your bank may think you are a fraudster trying to steal from your account.

Other types of suspicious activity may include:

  • Logging in to your online bank account or app from a new phone or computer
  • Logging on from a different state or country
  • Making a suspicious purchase (detailed below)
  • Transferring large sums of money in or out of your account via the app, online banking, wire transfers, or other methods.

Solution: Most banks will send you a message via email, your banking app, or phone to tell you that your card has been suspicious activity. You must then follow their directions to reinstate your account, usually by calling their customer service center to confirm you are the account holder.

2. A Purchase Has Been Deemed Suspicious

A specific type of suspicious activity is when a purchase is deemed abnormal. Banks use systems to track our spending and spending locations, which detect when an out-of-the-ordinary purchase appears.

Examples of these purchases include multiple purchases of the same product, an expensive purchase, a purchase from an international vendor, or a purchase in a state or country where you do not reside.

Solution: If your card has been blocked for this reason and you want to confirm your purchase and identity, follow the same instructions as in the suspicious activity scenario above.

3. You’ve Entered an Incorrect Pin Too Many Times

If you’re using your debit card at an ATM or a point of sale (POS) system, you may be asked to enter your PIN to confirm your purchase. Sometimes, we may forget our PIN or enter an old or incorrect PIN from a different card in the heat of the moment.

After multiple incorrect attempts – usually, three – the bank will be made aware of the error. To make sure it is not due to someone stealing your card and attempting to use it, they may freeze your account and block your debit card from further use.

A debit card blocked due to wrong PIN is one of the most common reasons your card can be blocked.

Solution: The fastest solution is to call your bank’s customer service line to confirm the card is in your possession. If you still can’t remember your PIN, ask the customer service representative how to establish a new one.

4. The Card Has Expired

A silly mistake we may overlook is having an expired debit card. Most debit card replacements come automatically in the mail before the old one expires. Sometimes we may miss the card among the bundle of mail, not update our residential address, or forget to switch out the old card for the new one.

Solution: In most cases, an expired card will not work. Head to your local branch office to ask for a replacement card or order a new debit card through your online account or app. Your local branch office may be able to issue a temporary debit card until your new one arrives.

5. The Card Is Inactive

If you try to use a new debit card, transactions might be blocked because the card is still inactive. The account holder must activate new debit cards before use. This includes setting up a PIN.

Solution: Debit cards can usually be activated at an ATM or through your online account or app. Some cards may require you to call an automated number to confirm the activation. Once you set up your PIN, you’ll be able to use this new card for all your purchases.

6. The Account Is Over Drafted

Your debit card purchase may be blocked because you have insufficient funds to pay for your purchase. This means you’ve either accidentally or unknowingly overdraft your account. This is likely to happen when you have automatic monthly payments taken out of your account.

Solution: For your purchase to go through, you’ll need to replenish the funds in your debit card’s account. If you can move money from your savings or another account into the debit account.

You should also have received a notice from your bank – likely via email – about your overdraft. Be sure to understand the terms and fees associated with overdrafts so that you can avoid them in the future.

7. You Need to Confirm Your Purchase

Certain purchases require customer confirmation before processing the payment, especially for online purchases. This is a two-factor authentication method used to protect you against fraud. Most confirmations happen via an SMS sent to your cellphone or an approval message sent to your banking app.

Solution: If you’ve received an SMS confirmation message, find the code (which is usually 5-6 digits) and enter it onto the purchase page. If the confirmation is sent through your banking app, you’ll need to log in and click accept.

If the purchase is in person, the SMS may ask you to respond with “YES/NO” to confirm the purchase.

8. You’ve Reached Your Transaction Limit

Certain debit cards have transaction limits. These are usually associated with ATM withdrawals, daily debit purchases, or transfers from your account. These limits are put into place to prevent large-scale spending and losses from fraud.

For example, Bank of America has a $1,000 daily ATM withdrawal limit and a $5,000 daily debit card purchase limit. For more limits from other banks, see here.

When you surpass these limits, your debit card may be blocked.

Solution: These blocks are usually in place for 24 hours. You may be able to unblock the card by speaking to a representative, but daily limits are generally restrictive and cannot be changed.

9. A Hold Has Been Placed on Your Card

While most companies prefer a credit card, some accept debit cards to place a hold on your account. This might be a security deposit on a hotel room, an insurance deposit on a rental car, or something of the sort. This hold controls a set amount of your money until the contract with that company concludes.

If the hold takes up most of your debit card assets, you won’t be able to use your card. Your bank may also flag the hold as suspicious activity and block your card.

Solution: If the hold takes up most of your funds, you won’t be able to use your card until the hold is lifted or you add more money to your account. If the hold has been flagged as suspicious activity, contact your bank to confirm your identity.

10. You Are Traveling

Your debit card will likely be blocked traveling abroad or in another state. Debit card purchases made outside of your normal location look suspicious.

You can prevent your debit card from being blocked by letting your bank know of your travel plans. Either visit your local branch or call the customer service number on the back of your debit card. The bank will remove the restrictions on purchases while your traveling.

You should also check that your debit card didn’t expire while traveling. In some cases, individuals don’t check the expiration date on their card before traveling. Your card isn’t blocked, it’s just expired.

Another issue while traveling is that some countries may not accept your bank’s type of debit card, which blocks any transactions from taking place.

Solution: Inform your bank of your travel plans as soon as possible. You may do this through the app, in person, or by calling the customer service hotline. If the country you’re visiting does not accept your debit card, you will have to use an alternative payment source during that trip.

11. There Is a Technical Error

If your card has recently been scratched, bent, or damaged, it may not be able to scan correctly for in-person transactions. If the card seems to be in good condition, the final issue might be technical – on either the bank’s end or the POS system.

Solution: If your card is damaged, request a new one through your bank and discard properly of the old one. If there is a technical error, get in touch with your bank for instructions on how to move forward as it’s resolved.


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John is the founder of TightFist Finance and an expert in the field of personal finance. John has studied personal finance for over 10 years and has used his knowledge to pay down debt, grow his investment portfolio, and launch a financial based business. He is committed to sharing content related to personal finance based on his experience in his career, investing, and path towards reaching financial independence.