If you’ve ever paid for something with a credit or debit card, you’ve probably seen a pending transaction on your account. These charges typically appear at the top of your most recent statements, and while they aren’t necessarily permanent, they do affect your total available balance. You can also find pending transactions in your PayPal account, depending on how the person you’re paying likes to receive their funds.

Seeing those pending transactions can be a bit of a shock, especially if you weren’t expecting them. Learn more about pending transactions, how to cancel one, and how to dispute a posted transaction once it's finalized. 

Key Takeaways

  • Pending transactions occur when a payment has been authorized by your card issuer but hasn’t been completed. 
  • A pending transaction will affect the amount of credit or funds you have available.
  • Canceling a pending transaction usually requires contacting the merchant who made the charge.
  • Once a pending transaction has posted, contact your bank or card issuer to dispute it.

What Is a Pending Transaction?

Whenever you swipe your debit or credit card, the merchant issues a charge to your card. This charge then goes through a process that cycles among payment networks, your bank, and the merchant itself. All of these steps take time to process and clear. While your transaction is making its way through the system, it remains pending. Once your card issuer has transferred the funds to the merchant on your behalf, the transaction finalizes and posts to your account. It’s a well-oiled system, and most of the time you won’t see any unexpected charges pending in your account.

Preauthorization Charges 

Sometimes you’ll see a pending transaction on your account that’s larger than a purchase you’ve made (or intend to make). This can occur when you purchase gas or rent a hotel room, for instance. Gas stations may place a large pending transaction on your account to accommodate an extra-large fill-up. When the transaction posts, your account will be charged for the actual amount of gas you bought. Upon check-in, hotels will often collect a deposit to cover any incidental charges or damage to the hotel room. After you leave, the hotel will refund your deposit less the charges you’ve incurred. If you don’t have any additional charges, the entire pending transaction will simply fade away.

Several U.S. states have sought to add protections against extra-large pending transactions. Tennessee’s law, for example, requires merchants to notify consumers of debit card holds in excess of 25% of the actual purchase, or $50, whichever is greater.

Pending Transactions and Debit Cards

Using a debit card instead of a credit card for purchases that lead to holds can be a risky proposition. That’s because a pending transaction on a credit card will simply limit your available credit balance. A pending transaction on your debit card, however, will limit access to the actual funds in your account for as long as it takes the transaction to disappear. This can be problematic if you have bills to pay and the withheld amount still hasn’t been released back to you.

Pending Transactions and PayPal

Pending transactions with PayPal can also occur, just like debit or credit cards. However, PayPal has another aspect to its transactions: sending payments via PayPal’s system. If you’ve sent a payment to a friend or merchant, the transaction may appear as pending in your PayPal account. Depending on the situation, you may be able to change or cancel the payment before it’s claimed. 

How To Cancel a Pending Credit Card or Debit Card Transaction

Sometimes you may want to cancel a pending transaction as quickly as possible. This can be the case if the hold is placed on your debit card and, thus, your bank account. Unfortunately, it’s not very easy to do—your card issuer has no ability to cancel or otherwise alter the transaction until it’s been finalized. If you want to eliminate the transaction before then, contact the merchant who placed the charge. Ask them to contact your card issuer and reverse the transaction. The merchant has the ability to ask for the hold to be released.

If you see a pending transaction that you know you didn’t make—such as a fraudulent purchase—contact your card issuer immediately. They can work with you to monitor the transaction, protect your privacy, and reduce your liability if the charge eventually posts.

How To Cancel a Pending PayPal Transaction

If you’ve sent funds to someone and see a pending transaction within your account, this can be for one of two reasons. First, you may have sent money to someone whose phone number or email address isn’t associated with a verified PayPal account. If this happens, you can cancel your payment via the “Activity” section of your account. 

Otherwise, you may have sent funds to a merchant who doesn’t accept payments automatically. This simply means that the merchant will need to accept or deny your payment. Once you’ve sent the funds to this type of merchant, you won’t be able to cancel this transaction.

How To Dispute a Posted Credit Card or Debit Transaction

If an erroneous pending charge you’ve noticed eventually posts as a transaction, don’t worry. It’s easier to dispute a posted transaction than a pending one. As a part of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), banks are required to acknowledge a disputed transaction no more than 30 days after they receive your complaint. They must then resolve it within two billing cycles, which may not exceed 90 days from the date of your complaint.

Fortunately, many banks will allow you to dispute a charge online, which can be simpler than sending a complaint letter. 

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, canceling a pending transaction isn’t always simple. If you’re trying to remove a hold or a pending transaction before it posts, you’ll need to contact the merchant and ask them to remove the authorization. Once your transaction is finalized, however, you have more power in reversing the charge. Thanks to the FCBA, you can dispute any charges you think are incorrect, and banks are required to respond in a timely manner. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does a pending transaction take to post?

The amount of time it takes for a transaction to post depends on when the merchant processes its account. Transactions usually post within three days but can take five days or longer. 

Can you cancel a pending transaction online?

Usually, no. Unless you’ve sent a payment via PayPal to an unrecognized email or phone number, you’ll need to contact the merchant to have them cancel the pending transaction. 

Why can’t a pending transaction be canceled?

Because a pending transaction is temporary and can change, you are unable to alter it until it is finalized and posted to your account.