Payment Gateway Error: Meaning?

Here’s what a payment gateway error means:

In short, this message is telling you that the bank failed to provide approval for a payment request from a merchant.

There are a lot of possible reasons why, but when you tried to make the purchase, the bank said no.

Sometimes, it’s a simple error like typing the wrong credit card number, but it can be complicated.

So if you want to learn all about how to fix a gateway payment error and continue your purchase, then this article is for you.

Let’s jump right in!

What Does Payment Gateway Error Mean?

Upset confused woman sitting on the floor, laptop on her lap, and credit card on one hand

If you see this message when trying to make an online purchase, there are a lot of possibilities.

Basically, this is a generic error message that means the payment didn’t work.

That doesn’t exactly tell you a lot, which is why this error message can be the source of a lot of frustration.

At the most basic level, this error message means that the merchant cannot successfully get an approval code from the bank that issued the card.

Let’s get a little deeper into that.

For those unfamiliar, all credit and debit cards are issued by banks and managed by credit card companies.

So, if you have a debit card, it’s attached to an account you have with your bank, but Visa, Mastercard, or some other credit card company actually runs the system that the debit card uses.

If you get a credit card, it’s ultimately the same story.

A bank approves the card account that you use.

The credit card company still manages the logistics of the card’s operation, but the bank ultimately transfers the funds that pay for credit purchases.

So, when you get this error message, whether you are using a credit or debit card, the problem is that the merchant couldn’t get an approval code from the bank.

As you might imagine, there are a lot of potential reasons why this can happen.

What Causes the Payment Gateway Error? (8 Problems)

woman is shopping on the Internet using credit card

The generic explanation of the payment gateway error is all well and good, but if you want to resolve a problem, you need more specific answers.

So, let’s go through the most common root causes behind this error message.

Then, we can discuss common solutions to the problems.

#1 Card Number Error

woman holding a credit card showing card digits

It’s the easiest of all possible explanations.

When you filled out the credit card information to complete the purchase, the number was entered incorrectly.

It happens to everyone at some point or another, and this is easy to fix.

Double-check the number to make sure it’s right.

If you find a problem and fix it, then the error message should go away, and the purchase will work this time.

Sometimes this problem pops up even though you used a credit card auto filler.

It’s possible for the auto filler to save the wrong number too, so make sure to check on that before you move to any other possible issues.

#2 Bad Address

name and address in an order form

This is another easy one.

Your card was issued using a specific address.

Any time you fill out payment information, you are asked for that address.

When you submit the payment information, the merchant includes all of it in the payment request that they send to the bank.

If the address is off, then the payment is refused, and you get the gateway error.

This is one of many fraud prevention techniques.

The idea is that even if someone steals your card, they have to know the right address in order to make online payments with that card.

So, it’s that much harder for anyone to defraud you.

The side effect is that sometimes you put in the wrong address and see this error.

Also, keep in mind that when you move, the bank won’t update your address until you tell them to, so that’s an easy way to get things mixed up when you’re shopping online.

#3 Expired Card

Young woman paying by credit card shopping online at home

This is another easy one.

Cards have expiration dates.

If you try to use an expired card, it will be automatically rejected.

The only solution here is to work with the bank and/or credit card company to get a new, up-to-date card.

Once you have the new card, the error should go away.

#4 Fraud Filter

Unhappy woman have problems paying online with credit card

This is the most likely explanation for a gateway error when none of the more obvious stuff triggers.

You double-checked the card number, address, and expiration date, but you’re still getting the error message.

The credit card company has an automated fraud filter.

This filter pays attention to purchases made with your card, and it will automatically place a hold on the card if it notices anything suspicious.

Some types of purchases automatically set off a red flag.

Pornography websites often fall under this umbrella.

Known scam sites do too.

So, there’s a chance that the purchase you are trying to make is why there is a hold.

It’s also possible that the hold is there due to other activity.

Maybe your card was compromised and someone tried to buy a coffee with it in Aruba.

The credit card company noticed that odd purchase attempt, so they froze the card.

The only solution is to work with the credit card company to remove the hold.

If there is a legitimate concern, they’ll usually cancel your card and send you a replacement.

#5 Insufficient Funds

Young couple with serious expression shopping online with credit card

It’s always annoying when it happens, but the account has to have access to enough money to cover the purchase.

In some cases, the account needs more money than is actually covered by the purchase.

I’m going to get a little deep on this one, and that starts by breaking the conversation into different parts for credit and debit cards.

Let’s start with credit cards.

When you have a credit card, the card itself is actually attached to a specific line of credit.

That line of credit has a maximum number.

For the sake of an example, let’s say that the maximum is $5,000.

If you try to purchase something with that card for $5,000.01, it will be declined, and you will get the gateway error.

Your line of credit can also accrue a balance.

Let’s say you make a purchase for $500.

Before you have a chance to pay off that purchase, you make some more.

They add up, and now you have a balance of $3,000 on the credit card account.

From that point, if you try to purchase anything for more than $2,000, then the purchase is declined.

So, the account has to have enough available credit for the charge issued.

As for debit cards, they are based on a bank account (usually a checking account).

In that case, the card pulls money directly from your account to cover the purchase.

So, if the purchase is for more money than you have in your account, it will be declined.

There are some exceptions to this where the purchase barely goes over your balance, or where the system runs slowly and thinks you have more money in the account than you do.

In those cases, the purchase will be approved, but the bank will charge you for over-drafting the account.

There are fees associated with that process, and it’s a bad time.

There’s one more thing to consider with insufficient funds.

Some types of purchases put a hold on the account that isn’t necessarily related to the cost of the purchase.

A great example is gas pumps.

When you go to fill up your car, the gas station will often put a hold on the card for up to $200.

That large hold ensures that you have enough funds available no matter how much gas you actually put in the tank.

So, let’s say you only need to put $50 of gas in the vehicle.

If your card is only good for $90, even though that’s enough for the purchase, you might still get declined.

This can happen with online purchases too.

#6 Unsupported Payment

woman looks confused while purchasing online using her phone

This is pretty simple.

Not all merchants accept all cards and payments.

If you’ve ever seen any of the old Visa ads, they would always talk about places that don’t accept American Express.

Ultimately, it’s up to the merchant what kinds of payment they want to deal with, and if they don’t have your card on the list, then you might get a gateway error.

#7 Communication Error

Young brunette woman using laptop at home covering mouth with hand, shocked and afraid for mistake

This is one of the most frustrating problems because it’s so hard to tell when this is what is happening.

When you make an online purchase, you send a purchase request to the merchant. 

Let’s use Amazon as an example to keep this simple.

So, you fill up your cart on the Amazon website, and then you go to make your purchase.

You hit the “confirm purchase” button, and normally, you get a message saying the purchase is completed and everything is fine.

Sometimes, you get the gateway message instead.

What happens behind the scenes is that when you hit the confirm button, you send a special request to Amazon authorizing them to move forward with charging your card.

Once Amazon receives that request, they then send their own request to your bank to get an authorization code to process the payment. 

The bank reviews the purchase, and if they approve the payment, they send the authorization code.

Amazon then uses that code to finalize the payment, and the order is approved.

All of this is automated, and it usually happens in a few seconds or less.

But, each of those stages requires a successful line of communication between you, Amazon, and/or the bank.

If any of those requests get interrupted by a bad internet connection, you might see the gateway error.

#8 Processor Declined

credit card in male hand

Lastly, we have this generic answer to the question.

Why did you get a gateway error?

The processor declined the transaction.

Basically, this means that the credit card company stopped the payment from going through, and they didn’t explain why.

This could be due to any of the problems mentioned above.

Or, it could be something else entirely.

If you contact your credit card company and get this answer back, then you really don’t know what the specific issue is.

What Can You Do About the Gateway Payment Error? (3 Options)

worried woman looking at smartphone near yellow sofa

Now that you know why the gateway error appeared, how do you get rid of it in order to complete your order?

For some of the problems above, the answer is simple.

Retype the credit card number to make sure it’s right.

Those kinds of solutions are obvious, and that’s fine.

Sometimes, the obvious stuff doesn’t work.

If that’s the case, you only really have three options.

#1 Wait and Try Again

Beautiful young woman sitting at desk with laptop

This mostly applies to connection problems.

If you think everything with the card is fine, and maybe your internet was a little slow when you tried to finalize the purchase, then this is a reasonable thing to try.

Basically, you’re giving the connections a chance to stabilize.

When you think the problem has passed, you can just try one more time.

#2 Try Another Card

young woman using different credit cards to pay online

The other easy catch-all solution is to use another card.

It’s not always an option, but when it is, it can make everything easy.

Regardless of why the bank or credit card company might have rejected the previous attempt, another card likely doesn’t have those issues.

So, use a card that you know is good, and everything is fine.

#3 Contact Support

Serious girl sitting on sofa making a phone call

But, sometimes the other card solution doesn’t work or isn’t an option.

In that case, your final course of action is to contact support.

You can talk to the merchant and see what message they got.

You can contact your credit card company to see what is going on.

Or, you can contact the bank to see why the request was denied.

There is no right order here.

Contact whoever you think can help you with the least amount of frustration on your end, and go from there.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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