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Need Help Using Visa® Gift Cards Online?

How to use Visa gift cards online and top reasons why Visa, Mastercard® and other bank-issued gift cards sometimes don’t work online.

What You Can Learn About Visa Gift Cards Here

In the post below, I’ll talk to you about the following three things.

  1. How to use a Visa gift card online.
  2. Possible reasons why your Visa gift card doesn’t work online.
  3. What you need to know about Virtual Visa egift cards.

Though Visa, Mastercard and other bank-issued gift cards work online quite well, there are certainly a few things to know that can make for a more positive experience.

1. How to Use a Visa Gift Card Online

What Online Card Payment Looks Like

When you get to the online payment processing portion of checkout, enter the gift card number, expiration date and Card Verification Number (CVN) into the fields you typically use for debit and credit card payments. Do not enter a Visa gift card number into the “gift card” field. That field is reserved for retailer-specific card numbers.

Below is an example of what online payment often looks like. This example shows many payment options including bank-issued debit and credit cards, store credit cards, PayPal, PayPal credit, a payment plan, store gift cards and even Bitcoin.

Most online shopping carts do not have this many ways to make a payment, but nearly all have a place to enter a credit card (on the left, circled in red) that is different from the area in which you would enter a gift card (on the right, circled in blue).

online shopping cart with gift card fields

Where Do the Gift Card Numbers Go?

In the payment example above, you would enter gift cards as follows:

1. Visa Gift Card: Input a Visa gift card, Mastercard gift card, Discover gift card or American Express gift card into the “Credit/Debit card” fields on the left, circled in red.

2. Store Gift Card: Input a store gift card into the “card number” field on the right, circled in blue.

Keep in mind, the fields could be anywhere no the payment screen you’re looking at. The most important thing to look for, however, is the fields marked as “Credit/Debit card.”

Incidentally, this example also shows how to make a payment online when a store gift card amount will not cover the full amount of the purchase. Using two forms of payment is called a “split tender transaction.” You would enter the store-issued gift card into the gift card field and use another form of payment to complete the purchase.

If you do not have a store-issued gift card and need to make a partial payment with a Visa gift card, then read this tip on how to make a partial payment with a Visa gift card online.)

Possible Reasons Why Your Visa Gift Card Might Not Be Working Online

Although Visa, Mastercard, Discover and AMEX gift cards are accepted online, in stores and just about anywhere these major brand debit cards are accepted, sometimes people have difficulties using their bank-issued gift cards online. If you are entering the gift card into the correct field on the website, then it is possible the gift card is being rejected for another reason.

In addition to this list of things to try if your Visa gift card is not working, the most common reasons gift cards decline online are listed below:

1. Visa Gift Card Not Activated

For security measures, some gift card sellers require the recipient to activate the card before it can be used. Though stores often activate gift cards at the cash register, online gift card sellers generally require the recipient to activate the card once it is received in the mail or via email. If your gift card does not work online, check to see if it needs to be activated or registered before use.

If you have a Visa gift card or Mastercard gift card from GiftCards.com, activate your card here.

2. Visa Gift Card Should be Registered

Registration usually involves linking a name and billing address to the prepaid card. Though you generally are not required to register a gift card in order to use it in stores or restaurants, the process is fairly important if you intend to use the gift card online.

To make it harder to use a stolen credit card online, many websites use a procedure called Address Verification System (AVS) to ensure the card number being used for payment matches the billing address on file with the bank. Since the Visa gift card number is entered into the same field used for a Visa credit card, the website will look for an AVS match even though it is less applicable to a gift card payment.

Registering the gift card allows you to update the address linked to the card. If the system will not let you update the information, you may at least be able to see what generic name and address has been associated with the card already.

If you have a Visa gift card or Mastercard gift card from GiftCards.com, activate your card and then look for a second step to “register” the card as well.

3. Waiting Period on the Card

couple waiting for card to work on computer

Gift cards ordered from GiftCards.com are usable as soon as the card is registered. But some drug stores and gas stations sell gift cards that are not usable for a specified waiting period (e.g. 48 hours).

Because thieves sometimes use stolen credit cards to buy gift cards, the waiting period gives banks, stores and victims a moment to detect and report compromised cards. If the theft is reported before the gift cards are used, the gift cards can be cancelled before the funds are depleted.

If you purchased a gift card at a store and try to use it immediately, but find that the card doesn’t work, check the receipt or gift card packaging to see if a waiting period is specified.

4. Insufficient Funds on the Card

At GiftCards.com, the most common reason online transactions decline is that the card does not have enough money on it to cover the purchase. Though people generally understand this concept, online shopping is a little different than in-store shopping. If you handed a Visa gift card to a cashier and knew it did not cover the full amount of the purchase, you could expect the system to use the card balance and then have the cashier ask you for a second form of payment. Since most websites cannot handle a split tender transaction as described above, the gift card is simply declined.

I’ll show you my trick for getting a gift card to work in this situation. Read my post on gift card hacks.

If you have a Visa gift card or Mastercard gift card from GiftCards.com, you can check the balance of your Visa gift card and review previous transactions as well.

5. Pending Transactions are Affecting the Balance

Every time you swipe or enter your Visa gift card number into a payment system (online or in person), the system checks to see if the card has sufficient funds to complete the transaction. During this authorization check, the system will place a “hold” on the funds needed for the purchase. If the transaction is cancelled or later declined, then the pending amount (or “hold”) is released. If the transaction is completed, then the pending amount is finalized (or “cleared”) and the card balance is reduced by the dollar amount of the final purchase.

Sometimes holds are not released immediately–it can take several hours or several days to remove a pending charge depending on how each merchant system works. During that time, your gift card may decline if pending charges are tying up a portion of the gift card balance that you know should be available.

If your card is not working and pending charges are still affecting the card balance, wait a few days and try again. If you want to understand the process more, here’s an article on why it takes so long for charges to clear.

6. Non-U.S. Website

passport cards and phone

Visa gift cards issued in the United States must be used in the United States. That requirement includes websites too. If you are trying to make a purchase on a website or with a business that is outside of the country, the transaction will decline.

Here’s a post on why gift cards will not work outside of the U.S. and what your alternatives are if you need one that does.

7. Recurring Payments Are Not Allowed

Some websites will not allow prepaid cards to be used for subscription services or any type of recurring payment such as dating sites, cell phone services or utility bills. You may be able to use these cards for one-time payments, but not for continued use.

If online bill payment is not working with a gift card, you might try calling the company to see if the card will word over the phone.

8. Cash Back is Not Allowed

Though you are simply trying to use your card, if the website has gift card transactions coded as a “cash” transaction, your card may decline.

To prohibit money laundering, any gift card transaction that is classified as a “quasi cash” merchant (meaning the business provides a service where a payment can be converted into cash), could be problematic.

Though PayPal recently announced that you can link a gift card to a PayPal account, it will not work with gift cards issued from GiftCards.com.

9. Questionable Sites

Visa and other bank-issued gift cards may decline if you are trying to the cards to pay for illegal or ill-advised products or services. At GiftCards.com, for example, Visa gift cards cannot be used on online gambling sites or adult websites.

10. Too Many Transactions

In frustration, some customers accidentally get their cards locked because they try too many things too quickly. For example, they might do a balance check, then try to use the card, then try to use it on another website, then check the balance again and then try to use the card again. Every time the card declines, they try something else.

Though the actions are normal for someone just trying to get a gift card to work, they also mimic the actions thieves take when they buy gift cards with stolen credit cards–impatiently trying to use the cards as quickly as possible.

If you accidentally get your gift card locked, contact the issuing company listed on the back of the gift card.

11. Contacting the Wrong Company

Finally, I get many comments from frustrated customers who tell me their gift cards aren’t working and the balance check process on GiftCards.com is broken. In most cases, the customer is simply trying to check the balance of another company’s gift card on our website.

Though GiftCards.com is one of the top-selling Visa gift card websites on the Internet, there are others. To find the balance, activate and register your Visa gift card, look at the back of your card to find out where that should be done.

And if you do have a gift card from GiftCards.com and need help finding out why the gift card doesn’t work, contact customer service for specific help with your card.

What You Need to Know about Virtual Visa eGift Cards

Visa Virtual egift cards must be used online, over the phone or wherever “card not present” transactions are allowed.

Beyond that, they work just like the plastic Visa gift cards. Just make sure to activate the card, register the card, enter the card number into the Debit/Credit card fields, ensure the dollar value covers the balance and so forth.

When All Options Fail

If you have checked all of these reasons why gift cards decline online and your gift card still isn’t working, then the best thing to do is call the number listed on the back of the card. Sometimes in an honest attempt to make a card work, users trip fraud detection sensors with repeated balance inquiries and multiple failed attempts to use a card. When that happens, you will most likely need to contact the issuing card company to get fraud-detection hold released.

Do you have any other questions about your Visa gift card not working? If so, reach out to me in the comments below, on Twitter (@GCGirlfriend) or on Instagram (@Gift.Card.Girlfriend).

Happy Gift Carding!

~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend

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