When we left for our trip to visit relatives the Friday morning before last, I pulled into the local ATM and withdrew some cash to buy food and pay tolls on both the trip out and the trip back, and then we went over to the local gas station to top off my tank (it was about half full) before heading out on the highway. We make all our gas purchases at the pump with our debit card, and today was no exception. But instead of staying outside with my spouse while he pumped gas I headed inside to buy a cheap coffee to keep me alert (it was very early in the AM when we left) while my spouse paid for the gas at the pump.
Or so I thought.
When I got back outside after getting my coffee, my spouse said his debit card was repeatedly declined. Since my debit card is attached to the same account and I had just used it 5 minutes ago to withdraw cash at our ATM (and my receipt assured me we had plenty of money in our checking account left) I used my card instead, thinking there was something wrong with his card. But, no dice. Mine was declined too.
And I felt my cheeks turn about 15 shades of red – even though I knew it wasn’t me, it wasn’t my account, and there must be a problem either with the gas station or our bank network. But I felt like it was. I felt ashamed and embarrassed and downright awful.
We debated using some of our cash to buy gas, but decided to leave and get gas a little later while I called our bank to find out why our cards weren’t working. We hadn’t pumped any gas yet, and I had paid for my coffee inside with cash, so we just left. And honestly, even though we had done nothing wrong, I felt like a deadbeat and sort of like a criminal.
It turns out that that morning, there was some sort of problem with our bank’s network in specific states only (like ours… yay) where the debit card registered as being above its daily limit even though it was not when you used it at any merchants. Which is why I could use it just fine at the ATM but then not at the gas station. I found this out by calling the phone number on the back of the card, and I was somewhat placated, even though it was a big inconvenience. It was fixed by the afternoon. But this isn’t about that, and all the backup plans we had to come up with in case the card continued not to work. That’s a story for later. This is about my brain and the revelations I went through that morning.
I never realized how much of my self worth was tied up in my ability to successfully swipe a piece of plastic. I’d only been rejected one time before, over ten years ago, and that time, the card (a different card) told the merchant the network was down, so it was clearly not my issue at all. This time, it just said “card declined”. Which, to me, sounds like my card is maxed out or I have no money in my checking account.
It was depressing. It was embarrassing. The attendant came out to talk to my spouse to see if he was scanning his card correctly, and that was embarrassing too. And I thought about all the times I’d been in line behind someone at the grocery store whose card had been rejected (there have been several) and the judgments I made in my head about their financial situation because of their card being declined. And then, I was angry at myself for being so quick to mentally judge others. Especially after the second gas station we tried that morning rejected the card as well (which is when I called the bank to find out what was wrong).
Just a piece of plastic. But my cheeks still feel warm when I think about it being declined.