The age of digital payments has spoiled us rotten with super-fast transactions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ordering an Amazon package or using a debit card terminal at the local retailer — If the check sound doesn’t bleep immediately, you get the feeling that something’s wrong. Likewise, the very moment a pending sign pops up on the screen, we all get an instinctive temptation to press cancel or refresh the page.
Crypto traders are more patient — they know that processing times can take longer depending on multiple in-chain factors but mostly on the crypto itself. Bitcoin, for example, needs 10 minutes on average to get from one wallet to another, while transactions on Solana take no more than 0.4 seconds.
Despite the difference in processing times and methods, the status pending is something like a “dead point” in the lifecycle of all online transactions. It doesn’t give you many options to do, but it can buy you some time to check if anything has gone wrong with your transaction.
For that reason, we’ll focus our attention on crypto transactions at their “pending mood” and the cancelling odds at that stage. To illustrate the time intervals better, we’ll also check the cancelling possibilities of traditional payment systems.
What Is a Pending Transaction?
In general terms, a pending transaction is a transaction that is on its way to the recipient — it has already been initiated, but it hasn’t been processed yet. All types of transactions reach this status at some point in their journey from the sender to the recipient. However, it all depends on the channel the transaction has to pass in the process.
Online Pending Transactions
If you use a credit/debit card for contactless payment, you should know that your transaction needs to go through a few establishments until it gets to the online merchant — the issuing bank, the debit/ credit card issuer, the acquiring bank, and the payment processor. In this cycle, the transaction gets verified, authorized, and finally approved.
More precisely, the very moment you click Confirm or Buy, the bank will authorize the payment and deduct the transaction amount from your available balance almost instantly. However, the authorized amount can be kept up to 5 business days until the transaction is fully settled, with the selected amount sent to the merchant.
There can be a few reasons for such a delay. For starters, you can make a digital payment whenever you want, but banks and networks won’t process your transaction outside business hours or during weekends. Also, the merchant operational protocol may refuse to accept the settlement until your product or service has been delivered, which is the case with Amazon, for example.
Or, it may be the merchant itself that requires specific pre-authorization based on the nature of its services. For instance, when you buy gas, gas stations happen to place a bigger transaction on your account to leave “space” for extra fill. Certainly, when the transaction posts, you will pay for the actual amount of gas you purchased. Hotels also use this pre-charge approach as a deposit method to make sure that you’re solvent enough to cover any additional costs or damage caused during your stay there.
Crypto Pending Transactions
The blockchain path is pretty straightforward, as your crypto funds don’t travel through any intermediary channels of this type. However, when it comes to Bitcoin and other altcoins that employ the Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus mechanism, your transaction is pending until the so-called mining process is completed.
PoW-run cryptocurrencies face a critical scalability issue, which means that the network is incapable of adjusting its speed for processing transactions at busy times when the blockchain is overloaded. These blockchains “pack” transactions into blocks with a strictly defined size and rely on an automated verification mechanism that imposes a certain difficulty to miners or validators in the verification process. These limitations are necessary for the blockchain to balance the production supply of new coins and prevent double-spending.
Can I Cancel a Pending Transaction?
To put it straight, you can’t. As we implied in the previous section, your funds have already been deducted from the total balance, even though this change is visible only in the available balance on your bank statement. However, while traditional financial models offer a few plans for cancelling a mistaken transaction, the rules on the blockchain are much stricter in this respect.
By their very nature, crypto transactions are irreversible. This means that you can’t cancel it at any point after you’ve initiated a transfer from your wallet. We’ll continue with the example of Bitcoin as the most commonly traded and most valuable blockchain-based product.
Even before your transaction is sent to the miners for verification, the moment you click Send, your transaction goes to a so-called mempool waiting for other transactions to form a block. After the 10-minute mining “job,” the block containing your transaction is added to the blockchain, which is an immutable and public ledger distributed to all participants in real-time.
In a nutshell, this is the lifecycle of a Bitcoin transaction and the only way to understand why you can’t make any modification after your Bitcoin transaction “sails away” to the mempool. You don’t have to deal with the technical mechanisms and math functions of the blockchain, but you do have to learn that the blockchain “monetary system” isn’t governed by a single entity that can help you bring back your mistakenly-sent bitcoins.
There is a slight possibility that centralized crypto exchanges (CEXs) can be a ray of hope in cancelling a pending transaction. That’s because they operate as AML/CFT-regulated financial companies that request full identity verification from their users (full name, address, phone number, bank account number, etc.).
Technically, this means that the exchange can track down the wrong recipient. However, that recipient can store their coins exclusively in a crypto wallet, and the blockchain rule book says that no other external entity can ask the holder to move their funds. Hence, it’s completely legit for the recipient to refuse to return your coins.
Replace by Fee
Another important factor we didn’t mention in the short explanation of the Bitcoin flow is transaction fees. In simplest terms, it’s the liability you have towards miners for their contribution to verifying your transactions. When you initiate a BTC transaction through a cryptocurrency exchange, the exchange takes responsibility for adjusting the miners’ fees based on the current network load. However, when you transfer BTC directly from one wallet to another, the independent wallet system allows you to set the fees yourself. That’s because miners give preference to transactions with higher fees.
Now, you may be wondering how this is related to cancelling a pending transaction. Well, some of the independent wallets have a built-in feature that allows you to “withdraw” the transaction. Actually, this option enables you to re-adjust the initially set transaction fees to save yourself from the eternal pending status, which can be very useful at times when the blockchain traffic is extremely busy and many other higher-rated transactions take your turn. This method is called Replace by Fee (RBF), and it’s available only with a limited range of Bitcoin wallets, such as Electrum and Exodus.
Cancelling a Credit / Debit Card Transaction
For any issue you face as a cardholder, you can call the competent financial institution or the credit card company and explain the situation. Or, you can establish direct contact with the merchant and ask for a reverse transaction or other painless solution. This humanized communication isn’t always sleek, but at least it can save the loss of your personal finance.
The caveat is that you can’t undertake any action during the pending debit or credit card transaction simply because the change you’ve made isn’t officially recorded in their books.
Cancelling a PayPal Transaction
We didn’t cover pending PayPal transactions as a separate unit since their on-hold phase depends on the bank account to which they’re linked. However, there’s one on-hold scenario that’s particularly related to the PayPal system itself and one that you can cancel.
What we have in mind is a scenario where the PayPal system doesn’t recognize the person or a company to which you’ve sent the money. For individuals, this may happen when the phone or email attached to the recipient doesn’t match that PayPal account. In such a case, you can easily cancel the pending transaction by navigating to the Activity tab on your dashboard.
On a retailer level, some merchants have set their accounts not to accept payments without consent. So, if this is the reason for the pending status of your transaction, we advise you to wait until they accept or deny your payment.
Can I cancel a pending bill payment?
If you use the popular online e-banking service EasyWeb, you can easily cancel a scheduled pending payment, but only up until the day your payment is planned to be processed. All you have to do is navigate to Scheduled Payments and select the one you want to cancel. You’ll immediately see a Cancel option under the Action tab. After completing the stop-payment process, you’ll see that transaction listed under Cancelled Transactions.
Can I cancel pending crypto withdrawals?
You can cancel a crypto withdrawal request to another address, but only if it’s still in progress and the transaction hasn’t been sent to the blockchain for verification. In that case, you’ll see the Cancel option right under the request. However, after your transaction gets safely to the mempool, there is no way to alter the withdrawal request. This is what enables merchants and small businesses to accept cryptocurrency without chargeback risks.
What is a pending charge on credit card payments?
You may notice on your bank statement a pending credit card charge. This happens when the merchant requires authorization but is not sure about your credit limit on the date of the scheduled payment. The card issuer authorizes the pending charge but doesn’t post it on your account when the transaction is completed successfully.
A Few Words Before You Go…
Cryptocurrency has reshaped the way people interact financially. This technology has provided a trustless approach to executing transactions while proving that a self-run system can be a workable way of achieving such a level of transparency. On that account, it has made all human-made mistakes unforgivable — what is sent to the blockchain can never be reversed, modified, or cancelled, regardless of its completion status.
However, as you can see from other digital means of payment, the more automated the payments get, the less tolerable to mistakes they become. The only thing we can do is to be extremely careful when submitting a payment form and avoid filling the empty fields manually.