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I recently tried to pay for a train ticket online with my Visa debit card. However the payment got refused, but the price of the ticket is being blocked on my card.

I contacted the train company to stop blocking my money, but all they said was:

The SNCF Finance Department has confirmed that no debit was made for your order

I do not understand this. Is it not the party who sells the products or services that blocks the money? Or is the money being blocked by my bank or by the Visa company?

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Please add a country tag – Dilip Sarwate Apr 9 '14 at 3:18
There might be a distinction between “blocking” and “debit” and some translation issues. I once got petrol in France with a debit card and was charged 100+ EUR instead of the actual price. The company was adamant that they did not charge so much but only blocked that amount. The difference was indeed refunded later but it took more than a week. In the meantime, my bank actually removed the 100 EUR from my account, which apparently does not happen with local debit cards. – Relaxed Apr 9 '14 at 10:00
this is called an authorization hold in banking jargon – Colin Pickard Apr 9 '14 at 15:54
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is the people who you bought the ticket from. Blocking is frequently done by hotels, gas stations, or rental car companies. Also, for anything where the credit card might be used to cover any damages or charges you might incur later as part of the transaction.

In essence, they are reserving part of your credit limit, ostensibly to cover charges they reasonably expect you might incur. For example, when you start pumping gas using a credit card they may block out $100 to make sure you don't pump a full tank and your credit card is declined because you ran over your limit at $3.

In general, the blocks clear fairly quickly after you settle up with the company on your final bill. You can also ask the company to clear the block, but I don't think they are required to by law in any specific time period. It may be up to their (and your) agreement with the credit card company.

Normally it isn't an issue and you don't even notice this going on behind the scenes, but if you keep your credit card near its limit, or use a debit card it can lead to nasty surprises (e.g. they can make you overdraw your account). One more reason not to use debit cards.

More information is available here on the Federal Trade Commission's website.

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The OP isn't located in the US and SNCF is most likely the French train company so what they are or are not required to do by law might differ. – Relaxed Apr 9 '14 at 10:05

The request to block the money is made by the Party who sells the product. Based on this request the Bank blocks the funds. Subsequently the Party who sold the product makes a charge against this block. Just to give an easy example;

  1. You Check into a Hotel, as the total amount is not know, the Hotel first sends a Block request to block some funds.
  2. The Bank Blocks the funds. Sends back a Block reference number
  3. After few days you check out, the Hotel sends a Charge request to the Bank against the Block reference number.
  4. The Block is removed by Bank and the charge appears.
  5. If you decide not to stay or pay by cash, the Hotel sends out a Cancel Block message.

So in the online train booking there are multiple messages sent between the Bank and SNCF. Something has gone wrong. It looks like the message from Bank sending back the Block reference number to SNCF has not reached. So as per Bank there is a Block and as per SNCF there is no block.

Keep chasing SNCF to issue a letter so that you can send it to the Bank and get the Block removed. Typically the Blocks by the Bank are for a period of 30 days and if there is no charge against that block it automatically gets reversed.

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There are, in fact, two balances kept for your account by most banks that have to comply with common convenience banking laws.

The first is your actual balance; it is simply the sum total of all deposits and withdrawals that have cleared the account; that is, both your bank and the bank from which the deposit came or to which the payment will go have exchanged necessary proof of authorization from the payor, and have confirmed with each other that the money has actually been debited from the account of the payor, transferred between the banks and credited to the account of the payee.

The second balance is the "available balance". This is the actual balance, plus any amount that the bank is "floating" you while a deposit clears, minus any amount that the bank has received notice of that you may have just authorized, but for which either full proof of authorization or the definite amount (or both) have not been confirmed.

This is what's happening here. Your bank received notice that you intended to pay the train company $X. They put an "authorization hold" on that $X, deducting it from your available balance but not your actual balance. The bank then, for whatever reason, declined to process the actual transaction (insufficient funds, suspicion of theft/fraud), but kept the hold in place in case the transaction was re-attempted.

Holds for debit purchases usually expire between 1 and 5 days after being placed if the hold is not subsequently "settled" by the merchant providing definite proof of amount and authorization before that time. The expiration time mainly depends on the policy of the bank holding your account. Holds can remain in place as long as thirty days for certain accounts or types of payment, again depending on bank policy. In certain circumstances, the bank can remove a hold on request. But it is the bank, and not the merchant, that you must contact to remove a hold or even inquire about one.

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