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When someone’s card declines, and you don’t know how to tell them

English: Logo of Target, US-based retail chain

English: Logo of Target, US-based retail chain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like those machines that you find at Target, or Vons/Safeway.. or large retailer places that have the screen for you to swipe your own card, see your total, ask for your signature.. and it even asks if you want cash back. They are super awesome, because in case my card declines, only I will know.

I always thought it was just awkward for the person whose card declined, but once I became a cashier, I discovered how awkward it is for the person telling you so. Here’s how it usually goes:

The customer comes in, purchases something and gives you the card. You swipe it and suddenly you get this message: Error, Card Declined.



So you swipe it again.. acting like you’re having trouble with it, while hoping that the person will realize on their own that they have insufficient funds and will ask you to try another card.


You act confused, and make it obvious that the card is not working and they look at you with the look of shame, almost like when you get home to your dog taking the stuffing out of your couch cushions. You must break the news. There is just no other way.

“I’m sorry sir, your card declined.”


I said that a few times and I felt like the worst person ever! So I worked out a technique:

“Hmm, this card isn’t working.. I wonder what happened.”

or I ask,

“Has this card been giving you trouble elsewhere?”

What makes it even more awkward is when you’re a server at a place and you must tell the person in front of the other members of their table that the card declined, or when the guy is trying to look like a big shot in front of his date and his card won’t help him out.

Has anyone else there been in this situation? How would you tell them?

  1. I’m in this situation at least once a week. I’ve found the best response is any which offers the other party an out; a escape route. Just telling them their card is declined paints you both in a box; it sounds like the transaction’s done, but it isn’t. So I’ll prompt them, “it looks like your card wasn’t accepted, do you have another form of payment?”

    It’s silly, but it works. It gives them an out. Rather than stand there embarrassed in front of a bunch of people who’re now waiting, it let’s them know, use a different card, figure out the why behind it later.

    July 7, 2013
  2. I had my card declined a long time ago. It was embarrassing for both of us. My ex-husband was famous for running up the credit card without telling me. Now that we are no longer together, this never happens. 🙂

    July 9, 2013

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