Chase Bank Pays Up For A Dumb Decline

Imagine this: You are in the grocery checkout line with $200 of purchases bagged and ready to go. Instead of the relief of APPROVED on the credit card gizmo screen, the cashier whispers the dread word: “Your card has been declined.”


It is a moment fraught with embarrassment. And peril: The next customer in line is already filling the empty side of the belt with her purchases. Behind her is a guy with an overflowing cart who looks impatient. They might get violent if you pull out your cell phone to call the card’s toll-free phone number to discuss the decline. You could run for it, but without the groceries. You could eat out tonight—although if you do, get some cash, just in case. Customers are already giving you the You are a deadbeat look.

Why do these things happen? Not because you reached your credit card max. Not because the card expired. It’s because the bank is protecting itself from the possibility that it may have to pay for a purchase that lights up as “suspicious” when a few items simultaneously occur. For example, a purchase made far from your home Zip Code at an establishment the bank does not instantly recognize can send The System into decline mode. No bank people are involved. The System is “algorithmed” to spot anything that could cost the bank money. Decline is its safe default path to make you call it rather than having it call you. Getting through to anyone takes lots of your time.

My advice is to “Play it cool. Cool, boy, real cool,” as the song goes. Smile as if you know this is just a mistake. “No problem,” say to the kid at the cash register. Nod and reassuringly wink at the customers waiting for you, deadbeat. Get out a different credit card from a different bank. But whatever you do, don’t call the bank’s toll-free line at that moment because that call could lead to violence. The lady unloading the groceries looks like she lifts weights. The guy with the full cart behind her has gone to full-twitch-status. The kid at the cash register won’t protect you from either of them.

Wait until the groceries are in the trunk of the car. Then call the damn bank. Ask for a manager to explain three things: Why does it take so long to get connected to a responsible person? Who selected the low class music you had to listen to until a manager was found? How will you be compensated for your time wasted and the embarrassment created?

The credit card decline by Chase Bank was caused by clerical error: Weeks before this decline I told Chase I would be traveling with my card. The info was not entered properly, so two declines followed. Compensation: 6,000 airline points (worth from $60 to $300 for airplane tickets) and a promise to call my cell phone first if a decline is ever about to occur. (That’s right, banks will do that.)



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