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Is Your Visa Gift Card Not Working?

Gift Card Girlfriend answers the gift card questions you’ve been asking.

Is your Visa® gift card not working? There are a number of reasons why a gift card may be declined. The most common reasons are that the card hasn’t been activated, the cashier is running the wrong type of transaction, the dollar amount being charged is greater than the card’s balance or the credit card processing machine is bumping up the charge amount to either place a hold on the card or to allow for a gratuity. For a more detailed explanation on why your Visa gift card is not working, read below.

visa gift cards

Is the Gift Card Activated?

Visa gift cards are linked to bank accounts that must be activated in order to receive transactions. Inactive cards will be declined if used for payment because the associated bank accounts aren’t ready to be used. Think of the hundreds of gift cards found at the grocery store. Until the cards are loaded (or rather the accounts associated with the gift cards are loaded), the plastic has no value. The same is true for Visa gift cards, whether you buy them online or at the store. Read here for more information about Activating Your Gift Card.

Running the Correct Transaction?

To use a Visa gift card as a “debit” transaction, you’ll need to enter a Personal Identification Number (PIN) at the Point of Sale (POS) terminal. Without a PIN, the gift card should be run as a “credit” transaction. (Please note, most gift cards–even if they are called prepaid debit cards–cannot be used at an ATM or bank to withdraw cash. Read the terms and conditions on your card to be sure.)

Purchase Amount Less than the Balance?

Visa gift cards are linked to bank accounts that cannot be overdrawn. If the purchase is greater than the funds available, the card may be declined. To use a Visa gift card for partial payment, ask the cashier to split the purchase into two transactions. First, deduct the full amount of the gift card, then pay the balance of the purchase with another form of payment. Read here for more information on Split-Tender Transactions.

Where is the Card Being Used?

At a Restaurant or Salon. Older payment processing terminals at restaurants and other service merchants (e.g. salon or spa) may automatically run an authorization transaction of 20 percent more than the total bill to ensure the gift card has enough funds to cover a gratuity. If this dollar value is greater than the card balance, the transaction may decline. Ask the cashier to charge only the bill amount (minus the gratuity) or to reduce the bill amount by 20 percent and retry the transaction. Be prepared to pay the bill difference with another form of payment.

At a Gas Station. When a Visa gift card is swiped at a gas station pump, the dollar amount of the transaction is unknown. So gas station pumps typically pre-authorize $75 or more on the card swiped. If the pre-authorization amount is greater than the card’s value, the transaction may be declined. To avoid having this hold placed on your gift card, pay inside. Tell the attendant to only charge the amount you specify.

At a Hotel. At check-in, hotels may automatically place a hold on gift card funds for the estimated amount of the stay, plus up to 30 percent for incidentals. To avoid having this hold placed on your gift card, use a credit card when checking into the hotel, then pay the final bill with the gift card.

At a Car Rental. Many car rental companies require a credit card to make a reservation. To pay with a gift card, make the reservation with a credit card but tell the attendant you will pay the final bill with a gift card.

Online. If you have a problem using your gift card for online or telephone purchases, the most likely reason is that the merchant’s fraud screening process is matching the billing information entered at checkout with the billing information on your gift card account. If the addresses don’t match, the card may decline. Register your card with the issuing bank making sure the name and address linked to the account are current. Read here for more information on why your Visa gift card is not working online.

Still Not Working?

At, transactions for online gambling sites, adult websites, money transfer services, PayPal and recurring bill payment will be declined. Check the terms and conditions on your Visa gift card to see if other restrictions apply. Read here for another perspective on why your gift card isn’t working.

If you’ve checked all of these things and your Visa gift card is not working, then call the telephone number or check the website typically listed on the back of the card. You may need to contact the issuing company to find out exactly why your card isn’t working.

Got other gift card questions? Add a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter @GCGirlfriend.

Happy Gift Carding!

~Gift Card Girlfriend

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