What Is a Credit Card Authorization Code? [Updated 2023]

Our business expert explains everything you need to know about credit card authorization codes. Learn what you can do to reduce chargebacks and fees.

Understanding how the payment process works behind the scenes can save you time and money as you run your small business. As an online merchant, you could come across more than 100 different credit card authorization codes, so you don't need to know the ins and outs of every single one. 

On the other hand, knowing what the most common credit card authorization codes mean lets you develop a streamlined response and take the right steps to avoid chargebacks and fees. This guide answers the most common questions ecommerce companies ask about credit card authorization codes.


What Is a Credit Card Authorization Code?

When your customer makes a purchase, their bank responds to the transmitted transaction with a credit card authorization code. It's 2-6 digits long and can include both numbers and letters. Your merchant service provider checks this code to determine whether the customer's bank, called the issuing bank, approved the purchase. 

How Do Credit Card Authorization Codes Work?

Each credit card authorization code has a specific meaning that provides details about the transaction. When the purchase goes through, the authorization code provides proof of a successful transaction for your records. 

For a declined purchase request, the authorization code alerts you about the reason for the failed transaction. You might also have to take certain actions, such as trying to run the purchase again. 

Common causes of declined transactions include:

  • Customer's PIN entered incorrectly
  • Credit card removed from reader too early
  • Insufficient funds in the issuing bank account
  • Signs of possible errors, like a purchase that looks identical to an earlier transaction
  • Indications that the card was lost or stolen

Click here for a full list of declined transaction error codes and their meanings.

How Do Credit Card Authorization Codes Affect Chargebacks?

You could receive a chargeback associated with a credit card authorization code if:

  • The payment processor doesn't request transaction authorization
  • The transaction goes through without a response from the issuing bank
  • The processor receives a decline response and authorizes the transaction anyway

You can avoid chargeback situations by carefully following the instructions when you receive an authorization code. You shouldn't try to run the transaction again unless the issuing bank specifically tells you to do so. 

The Benefits of Using Pay.com as Your Payment Service Provider

Pay.com simplifies the payment process so you can focus on your small business. These are just a few of the benefits of partnering with our platform for all your payment needs:

  • The ability to send secure Pay Links for purchases, so you don't need a website to start making money with your ecommerce business
  • A transparent, flat-rate payment structure that makes it easy to understand your bills and prevents expensive surprises
  • Support for a wide range of payment methods, including but not limited to credit and debit cards, electronic fund transfers, and digital wallets like Apple Pay. 

We strive to take the stress out of online payments with comprehensive solutions you can personalize to fit your business. Click here to get started now!

The Bottom Line 

Credit card authorization codes provide details about transaction declines and offer proof of an approved purchase for your merchant records. You don't need to memorize every code, but understanding the numbers that pop up often can help you take the required steps. Taking the right actions when you receive a code may prevent a costly chargeback for the purchase.

When you work with Pay.com, you can see all your transaction information on our intuitive Pay Dashboard. Log in from any device to see credit card authorization codes for every purchase and take the necessary next steps to ensure you receive timely payment.


How can my business accept credit card payments?

Pay.com offers an all-in-one payment solution with fast, easy setup and the highest level of security for your online transactions. 

You can take both credit and debit cards as well as many other methods of payment. It's simple to personalize the payment process and direct customers to your customized checkout through your Pay Dashboard.

Click here to find out how you can get started.

What is credit card authorization?

Credit card authorization is the approval your customer's bank sends in response to a purchase request. Authorization from the issuing bank indicates that the person has enough money in their account to cover the cost of the transaction. It also shows that the card hasn't been reported as lost or stolen.

Are there ambiguous credit card authorization codes?

You could come across ambiguous credit card authorization codes, which don't have an obvious reason for the decline. Instead, you have to call the issuing bank to get more information about the transaction or take another action. One example of an ambiguous authorization code is 19, which tells you to run the transaction again but doesn't say why it failed the first time.

What is a forced authorization?

When the issuing bank declines a purchase, you can contact them to get a forced authorization code. This code will force the transaction to go through despite the original failure. However, if the customer's account has insufficient funds, your merchant account will receive a chargeback for the purchase along with associated fees from your provider.

Meet the author
Andrea Miller
Andrea Miller has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. Specializing in business and finance, she has written for some of the major websites in the financial sector. Outside of work, she spends most of her time with her family and enjoys hiking, yoga, and reading.
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