A customer’s credit card number is the most important set of digits an ecommerce merchant can gather, but it’s not the only important number when it comes to transactions. Each payment your company attempts to process will return a two-digit status code assigned by the credit card issuer. If you see 00, this means the transaction was approved and completed successfully. But if you see any other number, the payment was not processed due to an issue somewhere in the flow of the transaction.
When a credit card transaction isn’t authorized, the decline code you’ll receive in response will indicate what went wrong. Proactive merchants can use this number to determine their next steps to achieve transaction approval.
A credit card decline code is a two-digit number merchants see when a credit card payment can’t be processed. The code is returned instantaneously and corresponds to the reason authorization failed.
Declined payments are a factor in 50% of subscription customer churn cases, according to PYMNTS. Knowing what these codes mean, and taking swift action when you receive one, could be the difference between a loyal customer and a churned one. Here are some of the most common credit card decline codes you may see and the steps you should take for each one.
This post was compiled based on Visa’s Action Code and MasterCard’s Network Response Codes documentation. While each card network has a unique decline code system, this post only includes codes that have a shared meaning across networks or are exclusive to one network.
A “do not honor” response is a catch-all for transactions that the credit card issuer has declined. Unfortunately, because credit card companies are short on details, it’s harder for you to respond comprehensively to the customer.
Close the sale by asking your customer to choose another payment method, whether that’s a different card or a third-party service like PayPal. You may also try to maintain goodwill by telling the customer you’re not sure what the issue is and advising them to contact their bank for more information.
Ecommerce merchants see this code when customers enter the wrong credit card information. Specifically, this code refers to the 15- or 16-digit card number.
Ask the customer to double-check their card number and try again. Ideally, your error page will highlight the card number entry box to show customers exactly where the issue is.
After a card is reported as lost by the cardholder, any transactions attempted on it will return this code. Merchants who see a “pick up” code are asked to retrieve the card if possible — but ecommerce sellers can ignore this instruction.
Code 41 is an indicator of fraud, so you should decline the transaction and do what you can to block further purchases by the same party. The only exception here is for subscription merchants. If you receive this code after attempting a recurring transaction, your customer likely forgot to update their payment information after losing their card. Prompt them to add a new card to their account by including them in your dunning email flow.
A transaction that returns decline code 43 means the payment attempt was made on a stolen card. The network has flagged the purchase as fraud and will not complete it.
You should decline any payments that return this code and block the purchaser from making further attempts, as they are attempting fraud. Then, contact the issuing bank and report the attempt — this may help them catch the fraudster. If you receive a code 43 in response to a recurring payment, make sure you reach out to the customer for updated card information the same as you would for a code 41.
A cardholder who attempts a transaction when they don’t have funds in their account or their credit card has been maxed out will receive this decline code.
Your response to code 51 depends on the context of the purchase. If the decline happens to a customer in your checkout flow, your best bet is to ask for another payment method. You may also instruct them to try again after paying down their card balance or adding funds to their account, but there’s a risk the customer won’t return to complete the purchase after taking this step.
Subscription merchants who receive decline code 51 while attempting a recurring payment will want to take the transaction through their dunning process. Smart Dunning gives you the best chance of retrying the transaction at the right time to get it approved.
Charges made to an expired credit card will return decline code 54. You may also see this code if the customer entered the expiration date incorrectly.
If a customer receives this error during checkout, ask them to input a valid expiration date for their credit card or use another payment method. Add the customer to your dunning email flow for recurring payments that return a code 54. You can proactively reduce the number of “card expired” declines by adding an account updater to your ecommerce store. This tool automatically finds and updates expired cards to prevent involuntary churn.
Subscription merchants may see an R0 decline code when a customer has requested the credit card company to stop processing payments from you.
Don’t assume a code R0 means you can ignore an account. Instead, go into your system and cancel the user’s recurring payments immediately. You don’t want to face a chargeback for processing an unauthorized transaction.
Declined payments aren’t just threatening to your business. They also make for a bad customer experience. Subscribers who experience service interruptions because of a declined payment may sour on your company, even if it’s not your fault. And buyers who can’t complete their purchase in the minute may decide to go elsewhere, even though they’re likely to get the same error there, too.
Oftentimes, the decline reason is unknown or out of your control. That's when it pays off to have a dunning process that handles the payment retry process for you. Strategic dunning solutions like Smart Dunning to automatically retry failed payments at the optimal date and time — ultimately increasing approval rates, decreasing churn and putting more hard-earned money in your pocket.
It’s always in your best interest to increase approval rates. And that means having a custom response ready for every credit card decline code.
There are even more decline codes than the ones we’ve listed here, so we created a cheat sheet to help you remember — at a glance — what’s going on when a transaction fails. With it in hand, you’ll be ready to address failed transactions and keep your customers satisfied.