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My bank (Natwest) blocks my debit card so frequently that I'm often worried about making large transactions - such as checking out of a hotel, buying at a luxury store, etc. It ruins experiences that ought to be pleasant, such as buying a nice watch.

It does this abroad (understandably) but it has become a real problem when at home. It's embarrassing having your card rejected and it makes me worry when paying for things.

So, what is the most reliable way to pay? Credit card? Are debit cards always unreliable?

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    when your purchases were blocked abroad, had you notified them in advance you were going to that country? – Kate Gregory Sep 5 '15 at 13:06
  • @KateGregory No - my bank doesn't let me leave notes on my account. I shouldn't really have mentioned blocked payments abroad however as it isn't the main problem I'm having (blocked payments abroad is fairly normal so not too embarrassing). The problem is when I buy something in a store and my card is rejected. If I can avoid it, I'd rather not have to ring the bank before I buy everything. – Kaol Sep 5 '15 at 14:28
  • Credit cards also can block. Have you set up 2 step authentication that visa and mastercard offer ? – DumbCoder Sep 5 '15 at 20:08
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This question is likely to be closed as a product recommendation request. But if you are willing to change the question a bit, perhaps to "How do I avoid having my debit card declined when I know I have good funds" it becomes a reasonable general question. And my answer follows.

I can tell you the same thing happens to those of us with credit cards. It can happen when your buying pattern changes. Suddenly buying a lot of merchandise, especially away from home. Nothing like having your card declined while with relatives you visit or while on vacation. I'd talk to the bank and ask for advice how to avoid this. I've called my card issuer to tell them I'll in X city for these dates, to expect charges from there. That seems to work well.

  • Was unaware you couldn't ask for product recommendations so have updated my question (wasn't really looking for that anyway, mostly just want to know if a credit card is best or whether it'll be the same as a debit card). My bank won't let me leave notes on my account unfortunately however this would still be a problem if they could: often the purchases aren't planned in advance and often the card being blocked is hard to predict. Besides, I'd rather not have to ring my bank every time I want to buy a pair of shoes or whatever. – Kaol Sep 5 '15 at 14:24
  • There are now 2 close votes. I suggest you edit. My answer assumes the issue is worst when traveling away from the cities we tend to occupy. In my case, it's 2 or 3 calls a year at most. This shouldn't occur with normal purchases. – JoeTaxpayer Sep 5 '15 at 16:48
  • While buying patterns are part of it they also have patterns they consider suspicious. Many years ago I had a situation that often caused me to buy stuff from two electronics stores like 10 minutes apart--and it would always trip their fraud detector. They never did learn that it was normal for me to do that, it continued until one store went out of business and the situation became moot. – Loren Pechtel Sep 5 '15 at 22:27
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Having worked in the financial industry, I can say 9:10 times a card is blocked, it is not actually the financial industry, but a credit/credit card monitoring service like "Falcon" for VISA. If you have not added travel notes or similar, they will decline large, our of country purchases as a way to protect you, from what is most likely fraud. Imagine if you were living in Sweden and making regular steady purchases, then all of a sudden, without warning your card was used in Spain. This would look suspicious on paper, even it was obvious to you.

This is less to do with your financial institution, and more to do with increased fraud prevention. Call your bank. They will help you.

  • Thanks, I don't really have a problem with my card being blocked abroad - that's understandable. The problem I have is, for example, when I went in to buy a new laptop and the card was declined. Or once when I checked out of a hotel (same country) and my card was declined. It's very embarrassing and also takes quite a while to resolve. I've rung up in advance before and they have told me they can't put a note on the account, I just have to ring up when it gets blocked. – Kaol Sep 5 '15 at 14:18
  • Is it under like the VISA or MASTERCARD processing, or some other carrier/network? – BrownRedHawk Sep 5 '15 at 14:20
  • It's a VISA debit card issued by Natwest bank. – Kaol Sep 5 '15 at 14:26
  • Because of the restrictions of banking and card policy in many countries (I.e. daily and single access limits) it might be time to move to a credit card, and use it like a debit card (pay it off after use) – BrownRedHawk Sep 5 '15 at 14:29
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    The hotel may have put a hold/pending charge on the card (car rental agencies sometimes do this too). If that wasn't released, and then they tried to charge it, the combined amount may have been the trigger. – mkennedy Sep 5 '15 at 15:32
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I have had my card blocked at home only rarely. One occasion comes to mind - I had bought something fairly large online late at night. No sooner had I clicked Purchase than my phone rang - the bank was asking had I actually just spent [$amount] at [$online store]? I said yes and that was that. A little later I made another purchase late at night on a different card. It went through, but when I tried to use the card the next day for something small in a store, it was declined. Embarrassed, I used a different card then called the bank. They said they had put the card on hold because of the online purchase for a large amount, even though they had let the purchase go through. They hadn't called me because it was late at night, and they hadn't given themselves any reasonable mechanisms to compensate for that (like calling me the next morning, emailing me, or the like) they'd just blocked the card. We had what you might call a frank and open exchange of views on the matter.

Not all banks use the same strategies or software. I suggest:

  • try to know your banks foibles. If large online purchases may be an issue, try to do that during business hours when they can call you, for example
  • have more than one card. Do the "suspicious" stuff on a different card than the one you like to buy groceries with. Or simply have another card you can pull out when the first is declined
  • call your bank after every decline - to learn more about why, and to let them know they are providing bad customer service in their attempts to prevent fraud. They can't tweak their algorithm if they don't know it's failing.
  • learn which of your cards is the touchiest, and decide how you feel about partitioning your regular spend with that knowledge. Some people will use it the most, so that it knows you best and is less likely to decline. Some people will use it the least, so as not to reward touchiness with revenue. Make a deliberate decision

Far and away the simplest thing is just to have more than one card so that these declines are a momentary hiccup you might forget by the time you and your Rolex are out of the store.

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