Changing a Secured Credit Card to an Unsecured Card

A secured credit card can help you establish credit for the first time or build your credit if you’ve damaged yours with missed payments, defaults, or bankruptcy. While secured credit cards offer many of the same advantages as traditional credit cards, they do have some limitations.

Eventually, those who start out with a secured card may want to switch to a traditional credit card. Here’s a closer look at how to transition from a secured credit card to an unsecured card.

What Is A Secured Credit Card?

A secured credit card requires that you put down a cash deposit, which serves as collateral for the charges you make with the card. Usually, the amount of the deposit is the same as your credit limit. So if you deposit $1,000, you’ll be able to borrow up to that amount.

If you miss payments, the bank can cover their losses by drawing on money from the deposit. That said, making on-time payments is just as important with secured credit cards as it is with traditional cards, especially if you are using the secured card to build credit.

As with traditional credit cards, secured cards require that you make a minimum monthly payment. Beyond that, you can carry a balance from month to month, but you will be charged interest on that balance. Pay your balance off in full each month to avoid interest payments.

Recommended: Differences Between a Secured and Unsecured Credit Card

Benefits of Secured Credit Cards

Secured credit cards offer users and banks a number of advantages.

Easier to Qualify

Because secured cards require users to put down a deposit, banks are taking on relatively little risk. As a result, it can be much easier to qualify for a secured card than it would be a traditional credit card.

Can Help Build Credit

If you have no credit or poor credit, it can be difficult to get approved for credit cards or loans. Making small purchases regularly with a secured card and paying off your bill in full and on time can help you establish credit or rebuild your credit.

If you’re looking to build credit, you may also consider becoming an authorized user on a credit card.

Convenience

You can use secured credit cards anywhere traditional cards are accepted. Secured credit cards allow you to shop in person or online without carrying cash around with you. It’s also difficult to accrue too much debt because you’re limited by the amount of your deposit.

Drawbacks of Secured Credit Cards

Alongside the benefits offered by secured cards, there are limitations to be aware of.

Coming Up With the Deposit

In order to get a secured card, you will have to come up with the cash that will serve as your deposit. That may require you to save for a period of time before you apply.

Once you deposit that cash, you can’t access it while your secured card is in use. That said, your deposit is refundable when you close the account or convert your secured credit card to an unsecured card.

Higher APR

The annual percentage rate (APR) is the interest rate you’re charged when you carry a balance on your card. Secured credit cards may offer higher interest rates than traditional cards, which can end up costing you more money if you carry a balance.

Spending Is Limited

Most credit cards, whether they’re secured or unsecured, have spending limits. For a secured credit card, your limit will depend on the size of the deposit you make, which will typically range from $200 to $2,000. If you’ve only deposited $1,000 and need to replace your transmission for $1,800, you won’t be able to put the repair on your card.

In comparison, the average credit limit across all cards is upwards of $30,000, according to a recent report from the credit reporting bureau Experian®.

What Is an Unsecured Credit Card?

An unsecured credit card is a traditional credit card that does not require a deposit as collateral. Instead, your credit limit is determined based on your creditworthiness. If you fail to pay off your credit card, your card company can send your bill to a collections agency, and your credit score will take a hit.

There are a variety of types of credit cards to choose from when it comes to unsecured cards, including rewards cards and balance transfer cards.

When You Might Keep Your Secured Credit Card Open

The biggest reasons to keep your secured credit card open have to do with the potential implications closing the account can have for your credit score.

For one, closing an account may result in a dip in your credit score. Additionally, closing the account may decrease the age of your credit history, another factor that goes into determining your credit score.

When You Might Upgrade to an Unsecured Credit Card

You may consider upgrading to a traditional, unsecured card if you’re able to manage a secured card responsibly and are looking for a lower APR or a higher credit limit. Ultimately, making the move requires that your credit is in decent shape.

To do so, it’s important that you stick to credit card rules. That includes being sure that you’re not in the habit of overspending, you’re able to pay your bills on time and in full, and you can keep your total purchases lower than your available credit. Experts suggest keeping your total balance at 30% or less of your available credit.

However, whether you can change a secured credit card to unsecured will also depend on your credit card issuer. Not all card companies offer unsecured options that you can upgrade to. In those cases, you’ll need to apply for a new card.

Guide to Upgrading from a Secured Card to Unsecured Credit Card

If you’re looking to upgrade to an unsecured card, make sure you’re following these steps.

Monitor Your Credit Score

Many credit cards require that you have at least a good credit score to qualify. That means, you’ll need a FICO® score of 670 or higher. Not only are you more likely to qualify for a card with a higher score, you’ll also be more likely to secure more favorable terms and lower interest rates.

If you’re considering trying to convert a secured credit card to an unsecured card, monitor your credit score regularly. You might check with your card issuer to see if they offer you free access to your credit score.

Making the Minimum Monthly Payment

Getting approved for a change from a secured credit card to an unsecured credit card requires displaying responsible credit card behavior. Ideally, you’d avoid interest payments by paying off your credit card in full every month. But if that’s not possible, be sure you are making at least your minimum monthly payment, as payment history is one of the biggest determinants of your credit score. On-time payments are a big part of using a credit card responsibly.

Managing All Your Accounts Responsibly

Before opening an unsecured credit card, make sure you’re able to make other debt payments on time as well. This includes student loans, car payments, or a mortgage. If you’re not displaying good credit behavior elsewhere, that will show up on your credit report and potentially hurt your chances of qualifying for an unsecured credit card.

Limiting the Number of Credit Accounts You Open

Opening new accounts requires a hard inquiry, which will result in a temporary dip in your credit score. Additionally, if you open too many new accounts in a short period of time, it can lower the average age of your credit accounts, which is another factor that influences your credit score.

Ideally, you’ll avoid activities that will cause your credit score to drop as you’re trying to work toward being able to qualify for a secured credit card. A better score will improve your chances of getting approved.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

The Takeaway

A secured card is an important tool for building or rebuilding credit. However, once you’ve established healthy credit card habits and good credit score, it may serve you to switch from a secured to unsecured credit card.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Can I upgrade my secured credit card to unsecured?

Some lenders will allow you to change a secured credit card to an unsecured card. However, others will require that you apply for a new card.

How long does it take to convert a secured credit card to an unsecured one?

To move from a secured credit card to an unsecured one can take anywhere from several months to a couple of years. How long it takes will depend on the credit card issuer’s policies as well as what your credit score was when you opened the account.

Does converting a secured credit card to an unsecured card hurt your credit score?

Closing your secured card to open a traditional credit card may cause your credit score to take a temporary dip. However, you shouldn’t notice a huge impact.

Do all credit card issuers allow the conversion from a secured to unsecured card?

Not all credit card issuers will convert a secured card to an unsecured card. More often than not, you’ll have to close your secured account and open a brand new card.


Photo credit: iStock/Ridofranz

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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A Guide to Credit Card Grace Periods

A Guide to Credit Card Grace Periods

Your credit card’s grace period is the length of time that starts at the end of your billing cycle and ends when your payment is due. During this period, you may not have to pay interest on your balance — as long as you pay it off in full by your payment due date.

While a lot of credit cards have a grace period, not all of them do. Here’s a look at how grace periods on credit cards work and how you can take full advantage of them.

What Is the Grace Period on a Credit Card?

Credit cards allow you to borrow money over the course of a one-month billing cycle, during which you may not need to pay interest. The end of your credit card billing cycle is also called your statement date. That’s when your monthly credit card statement is sent to you in the mail or becomes available online. Credit card payments are due on the payment due date, about three weeks later. The time in between these dates is what’s known as the grace period.

During this time, you won’t be charged any interest on the purchases that you made during the billing cycle. However, because of how credit card payments work, you must pay off your credit card balance in full by your payment due date in order to avoid interest payments. At the very least, you must make your minimum payment, and you’ll then owe interest on whatever balance you carry into the next month.

Recommended: What Is a Charge Card?

How Credit Card Billing Cycles and Grace Periods Work

Grace periods on credit cards are different from the grace period for other loan products. For example, the grace period for a mortgage lasts about 15 days. If your payment is due on the first of the month, you’d have until mid-month to make your payment before it’s considered late and you’re charged potential late fees.

This is not how credit card grace periods work. The grace period for revolving credit — which is what a credit card is — comes before the payment due date. As such, credit card grace periods don’t protect you from late fees. Rather, they give you a period of time in which you can avoid interest payments.

If you miss the date when credit card payments are due, your payment is considered late. Late payments may trigger penalties, and they can have a negative effect on your credit score if they’re reported to the credit reporting bureaus.

Limits on Credit Card Grace Periods

Credit card companies are not required to offer their customers a grace period. However, many of them choose to do so.

Federal law requires credit card companies to send you a bill within 21 days of the payment due date, meaning you’ll get at least three weeks’ notice of how much you owe for your previous billing cycle (after the credit card closing date). However, the amount of time you’ll have for your grace period will vary by lender.

Credit card grace periods typically only apply to purchases. That means if you’ve used your credit card for a cash advance, for example, you’ll have to start paying interest on the date of the cash advance transaction.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

How Long Is the Typical Grace Period for a Credit Card?

Typically, grace periods last at least 21 days and up to 25 days.

You can find out how long your grace period is by checking your cardholder agreement. The length of your grace period should be listed alongside fees and your annual percentage rate (APR). You can also call your credit card company and ask them directly.

You may also have a longer grace period for special promotions. Those can be as long as 55 days.

What Types of Transactions Are Eligible for Credit Card Grace Periods?

As mentioned above, generally only purchase transactions are eligible for the credit card grace period. Cash advances — which allow you to borrow a certain amount of money against your line of credit — typically are not eligible. They will start accruing interest the day you make the transaction.

Similarly, if you transfer a balance from one credit card to another, you’ll start to accrue interest on that balance immediately. The only exception is if you have a balance transfer credit card with a 0% introductory rate for a period of time. If you pay off the balance during that period, you won’t owe interest. However, interest will accrue on whatever remains of your balance at the end of that period.

Taking Maximum Advantage of Your Credit Card’s Grace Period

If you pay off your credit card bill in full each month, you’ll avoid accruing credit card interest. Even carrying a small balance will disrupt your grace periods. If you do, you’ll owe interest on the remaining amount, and all of the new purchases that you make in the next billing cycle will accrue interest immediately as well.

To take full advantage of your credit card’s grace period, plan your purchases accordingly to ensure you’re able to pay your bills in full and on time. For example, if you’re going to make a large purchase, you may want to do so close to the first day of your billing cycle. That way, you’ll have the full cycle (about four weeks), plus your grace period (about three weeks), to pay off your purchase without owing any interest.

Can You Lose Your Credit Card’s Grace Period?

It is possible to lose your credit card grace period if you don’t make on-time payments in full each month by the payment due date. If you lose your grace period, you’ll be charged interest on the remaining portion of your balance. In the new billing cycle, you’ll also owe interest on any new purchases on the day the transaction takes place. This can lead to you falling into a debt cycle, which isn’t easy to get out of. (It’s wise to educate yourself on what happens to credit card debt when you die, too.)

Luckily, issuers usually restore grace periods once you’ve paid your outstanding balance and are back to making full on-time payments for a month or two.

The Takeaway

Your credit card grace period is an important tool that can save you money on interest if you pay off your balance in full each month. If you don’t pay your balance in full each month, you could lose this privilege temporarily. As such, you’d end up owing interest on your previous remaining balance and any new purchases.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

What is the grace period for credit card payments after the due date?

Credit card grace periods occur before the payment due date. Payments made after that date are considered late. After the due date, cardholders will owe interest on their balance. Further, they may lose their grace period until they can pay their balance off in full for one or two months.

What happens if you are one day late on a credit card payment?

Being one day late on a credit card payment can still trigger late fees, interest, and potentially the loss of your grace period. Late payments may also be reported to the credit reporting bureaus, which can have a negative impact on your credit score.

What is the typical grace period for a credit card?

Federal law requires that credit card companies provide your bill at least 21 days before your next payment due date. The length of the grace period can vary depending on the credit card issuer, though they typically last 21 to 25 days.


Photo credit: iStock/Moyo Studio

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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Guide to Lowering Your Credit Card Interest Rate (APR)

The annual percentage rate (APR) of a credit card represents how much someone pays in interest on an annual basis if they carry a balance on their credit card. The lower someone’s APR is, the less they would pay in interest. Because of this, it makes sense to try to secure the lowest APR possible.

Keep reading to learn how to lower the APR on a credit card.

What Is Credit Card APR?

A credit card’s APR represents the total cost of borrowing money using a credit card. The APR on a credit card is the interest rate charged to carry a balance, plus any fees. A credit card can have a fixed or variable interest rate, meaning the rate can either stay the same or change over time based on index rates.

Understanding what APR is can help credit card users know how much they’d need to pay in interest if they don’t pay off their credit card balance in full each month. If they don’t carry a balance, they can avoid paying credit card interest.

Recommended: What Is a Charge Card?

Ways a Lower Interest Rate Can Help

Having a good APR for credit cards is important for a number of reasons. A lower interest rate can save you money. In turn, this can make it easier and faster to pay off debt. Doing so is one way you can help build your credit score.

The higher your interest rate is, the harder it can be to chip away at your credit card balance, as the bulk of credit card payments will go toward interest. This is why achieving a lower credit card APR can make escaping high-interest credit card debt easier.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

How to Lower APR on a Credit Card

If you are interested in lowering your credit card APR, there are steps you can take to try to do so.

Apply for a Balance Transfer Card

If your card has a high APR, one option for how to get a better rate can be a balance transfer card with a lower interest rate. You can then transfer your balance from the high-interest credit card to the balance transfer card.

Usually, this new balance transfer credit card can’t be issued by the same company or any affiliates of the original card. Balance transfer cards may offer a 0% APR promotional period. During that period, you won’t pay any interest, which means all of your payments will go toward paying down the principal.

However, once the promotional period ends, a higher APR will kick in (this is one example of what can increase your credit card’s APR). Additionally, a balance transfer fee may apply to move over the existing credit card balance to the new card. It might make sense to calculate your credit card interest rate on your old card to ensure you’ll save money.

Negotiate With Your Credit Card Issuer

When it comes to figuring out how to get lower APR on a credit card, it’s possible to simply ask for an APR reduction with a credit card issuer. This strategy may be particularly effective if the cardholder has used their credit card responsibly and consistently paid their credit card bill on time — one of the cardinal credit card rules.

You can also provide a reason why you’re requesting a reduction. You may have experienced a job loss or have unexpected medical bills to pay. Maybe you got a raise and are really motivated to pay off your debt, and having a lower interest rate would help you do that. It’s also possible to leverage new credit card offers with lower interest rates to try to negotiate a current APR down.

Consumers can also ask for a temporary reprieve if the credit card issuer won’t offer a lower rate indefinitely. For example, it may be possible to request a one-year rate reduction of one to three percentage points.

Low-Interest Credit Cards

If you can’t quite figure out how to get a lower interest rate on a credit card with your current issuer, you could also step away from using that specific credit card. Instead, you might apply for a low-interest credit card to use in lieu of the card with the higher APR.

Cardholders who have consistently made on-time payments and taken other steps to build their credit score may be able to secure a new card with a lower interest rate. As an added bonus, doing so can make it easier to negotiate a lower APR with a current credit card.

Some different types of credit cards even reward cardholders for their good behavior by lowering their APR.

The Takeaway

If you pay off your credit card balance in full each month, you won’t have to worry about your APR too much. That being said, it’s always smart to try to secure the lowest APR possible in case it’s necessary to carry a balance from time to time.

Having a lower APR on a credit card means the cost of borrowing money is lower. More of your monthly payments can go toward paying down the principal balance instead of interest. In turn, this can help you pay off your debt faster, save money, and even build your credit score.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

How can I reduce my credit card interest rate?

You have a few options for lowering the interest rate on a credit card. You can try to negotiate a lower interest rate on any current credit cards by calling your issuer and trying to come to an agreement. If that doesn’t work, you can apply for a new credit card or a balance transfer card. If you can secure a lower interest rate on a new credit card, you can choose to use that credit card or take that offer back to your current lender to try to negotiate a lower APR.

Why do credit card issuers charge varying APRs?

Credit card issuers use a consumer’s credit score to help determine what the APR on a credit card should be for a specific consumer. The reason that APRs vary is because credit card issuers give a custom APR to each applicant based on their financial history. Generally, the lower someone’s credit score is, the higher their APR will be.


Photo credit: iStock/Charday Penn

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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Guide to Credit Card Annual Fees

A credit card annual fee is the price that some cardholders pay to use a certain credit card. While there are plenty of credit cards on the market that don’t come with an annual fee, the credit cards that charge an annual fee tend to have better cardholder perks that can outweigh the cost of the annual fee if the card is used optimally.

Keep reading for more insight into annual fee credit cards.

What Is a Credit Card Annual Fee?

Annual fees are costs charged by many (but not all) credit card issuers to help finance their service, including cardholder perks, such as travel credits and free checked luggage on flights.

The amount of an annual fee factors into how much a credit card costs overall, and it varies from card to card. Credit card annual fees can start as low as around $39 and go as high as thousands of dollars for luxury credit cards.

Usually how credit cards work is that cards with sky-high annual fees also offer a lot of extra perks to make the credit card worth the money. For instance, the cardholder may gain exclusive access to airport lounges, credits towards rideshares, or be able to tap into competitive introductory reward bonuses.

However, there are cases where an annual fee is charged for credit cards designed for consumers with low credit scores. These credit cards don’t offer great rewards, and instead give consumers with poor credit a chance to build their credit by using credit cards responsibly. Eventually, the goal is for the cardholder to positively impact their credit so they can qualify for credit cards with lower interest rates and better perks.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score?

How Do Credit Card Annual Fees Work?

When you pay the annual fee on a credit card varies depending on your card issuer. Credit card issuers either charge annual fees on either a yearly basis, or they may divide the fee up into smaller monthly installments.

If your fee is charged once a year, then it usually will appear on your first statement after you open your account. You’ll then get charged every 12 months thereafter. In the instance an annual fee is divided into smaller monthly payments, these will get included on the monthly statement the cardholder receives.

You pay your credit card annual fee just like you’d pay any other credit card charges listed on your monthly statement.

Which Credit Cards Typically Have an Annual Fee?

There are three main types of annual fee credit cards you might consider.

Reward Cards

Credit cards that can offer a high-value rewards structure or that have a strong introductory bonus often come with an annual fee. If the card is used strategically, it’s possible to earn enough credit card rewards to cancel out the cost of the annual fee and other cardholder fees. You may earn rewards like cash back, travel points, or discounts on specialty purchases.

Premium Credit Cards

A premium credit card that offers luxe perks like private airport lounge access or a travel concierge is likely to charge an annual fee to use the card. If you’re considering one of these cards, make sure to crunch the numbers to make sure you’ll use enough of the perks to offset the cost of the annual fee.

Secured Credit Cards

A secured credit card is designed to help consumers with bad credit scores build their credit. These cards require a deposit to “secure” the card, and that amount also usually serves as the card’s credit limit. On top of the deposit, secured credit cards often carry an annual fee.

For some, the cost of a secured card may be worth it for the opportunity to build their credit score, which can make it easier to qualify for lending opportunities in the future. Still, make sure it’s within your budget.

Recommended: What Is the Average Credit Card Limit?

How Are Credit Card Annual Fees Charged?

As briefly mentioned above, some credit card issuers charge the annual fee once a year, while others split up the annual fee into smaller monthly installments.

The annual fee shows up on the credit card statement alongside normal credit card charges, and the cardholder pays the annual fee as part of that month’s credit card bill. Remember that even if you have an authorized user on a credit card, it’s still the primary cardholder’s responsibility to make payments, which includes any fees.

Avoiding Credit Card Annual Fees

If you’re trying to avoid credit card fees, it’s entirely possible to avoid paying annual fees. There are plenty of credit cards on the market that don’t charge an annual fee at all.

If someone is interested in a credit card with an annual fee, such as a premium rewards card, they can try to get the first year’s annual fee waived. Some credit card issuers offer to do this from the get-go. However, if someone is an existing cardmember with the issuer and their introductory offer doesn’t include waiving the first year’s fee, they can request a one-time waiver.

Before signing up for a credit card with an annual fee, it’s important to evaluate your spending habits. You want to ensure that you can comfortably afford to cover the annual fee for the credit card. Also investigate whether you’ll earn enough benefits from the card to justify the cost of the annual fee.

The Takeaway

Annual fees are often charged by credit card issuers to cover the cost of their services and perks. Fees can range from around $39 to thousands of dollars for ultra-premium cards, and it can be wise to review them carefully and make sure you are comfortable paying them. It may be possible to avoid these fees by negotiating with your card issuer or qualifying for this reward.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

How do you pay the annual fee on your credit card?

If someone has an annual fee credit card, the annual fee will appear on their credit card statement. The fee may appear every 12 months or in smaller increments on a monthly basis. The cardholder then pays this fee as a part of their monthly bill in addition to any other purchases they made with the credit card during that billing cycle.

How can I avoid paying annual fees on my credit card?

Alongside choosing a credit card that doesn’t charge an annual fee (there are plenty of options on the market), a consumer may be able to get the first year of an annual fee waived as a new cardholder incentive. It only makes sense to open a credit card with an annual fee if the account holder’s spending habits line up with the rewards structure of the credit card. That way, they can earn enough cash back, miles, or other perks to outweigh the cost of the annual fee.

Do all credit cards have annual fees?

There are tons of great credit cards on the market that don’t come with annual fees. There’s never a reason to pay an annual fee if someone decides that’s not a good use of their money.


Photo credit: iStock/Rudzhan Nagiev

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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What Is a Contactless Credit Card and How Does It Work?

What Is a Contactless Credit Card and How Does It Work?

Contactless credit cards are a method of payment that allows you to simply tap or hold your card on the card reader, as opposed to inserting or swiping it. This kind of card has grown in popularity over the past few years.

Here’s a look at the tech that enables contactless credit card payments, as well as the pros and cons of using this sort of card.

What Is a Contactless Credit Card?

Physically, a contactless credit card looks like a regular credit card, with the bank name and the account number on the front of the card and the ubiquitous magnetic stripe on the back of the card. However, contactless credit cards allow cardholders to “tap and pay” instead of inserting or swiping their card in a merchant payment machine.

This enables a consumer to make a purchase at a retail location without ever having to physically touch a payment device. This was one of the reasons contactless payments soared during the pandemic.

What Does Contactless Payment Mean?

The term contactless payment more broadly refers to a form of payment that involves no touch. You can make a contactless payment using a credit card as well as a debit card, gift card, mobile wallet, or wearable device.

Regardless of the form, contactless payments rely on the same technology to make a payment without needing to swipe, enter a debit or credit card PIN, or sign for a transaction.

How to Know If Your Credit Card Is Contactless

Major credit card providers like MasterCard and Visa offer contactless cards. You can determine if your credit card is contactless-capable by looking for a contactless card symbol on the back of your card. This symbol looks like a wifi symbol flipped on its side, with four curved lines that increase in length from left to right.

Even if your card has this symbol on it, you’ll also want to check that the merchant has contactless readers. You can figure this out by looking for that same symbol on the card reader or asking the merchant directly.

How Contactless Credit Cards Work

Like other credit cards, contactless credit cards have small chips embedded in them. But instead of requiring you to insert the card, this chip emits electromagnetic waves that transfer your payment information when you place the card close to a payment terminal that accepts contactless payments.

You don’t actually even need to tap your contactless credit card to pay — all you have to do is place your card within a few inches of the payment terminal. This will initiate payment.

You might then have to wait a few seconds while the transaction processes. The terminal may give a signal when the transaction is complete, such as by beeping or flashing a green light.

Technology That Enables Contactless Credit Card Payments

Instead of inserting a credit or debit card into a merchant payment terminal, contactless credit cards rely on radio frequency identification technology (RFID) and near-field communication to complete a retail transaction.

The “no touch” concept is driven by a contactless card’s short-range electromagnetic waves, which hold the cardholder’s personal data, including their credit card account number. This information is then transmitted to the merchant’s payment device. Once the device grabs the airborne card information, the transaction can be completed and the purchase confirmed.

Pros and Cons of Contactless Credit Cards

Like most consumer finance tools, contactless credit cards have their upsides and downsides. Here’s a snapshot of the pros and cons to note:

Pros

Cons

Convenient to use Not always available overseas
Secure Low transaction limits
Increasingly offered Not always reliable
Better for merchants

Pros

These are the main upsides of contactless credit cards:

•   Convenient to use: Contactless credit cards are extremely convenient to use once you get the hang of how credit cards work when they have this feature. All a user has to do is wave their contactless credit card in front of the card reader, and the deal is done in a matter of seconds. Plus, you can avoid touching any surfaces in the process.

•   Secure: With data thieves regularly on the prowl, “tap and pay” and “wave and pay” technologies are highly protective of a consumer’s personal data. All of the data is stored on a password-protected, fully-encrypted computer chip embedded inside the card, making it difficult for a financial fraudster to steal a user’s personal information.

•   Increasingly offered: The availability of contactless payments has increased in recent years, and many brand-name companies now offer the option. Companies may even offer discounts and loyalty point details that are immediately added to a consumer’s account at the point of sale.

•   Better for merchants: Companies that offer contactless credit/debit card payments also benefit from “no touch” card technology. Aside from superior operational capability and faster transactions, merchants get a better customer experience and formidable fraud protection from contactless payment technology, with no extra cost. That’s because merchants pay the same transaction processing fee with contactless payments as they do with regular credit card transactions.

Cons

Of course, there are downsides to contactless credit cards as well:

•   Not always available overseas: Contactless payments may not work abroad, given the recent expansion of a new card payment technology. Additionally, consumers may be charged foreign transaction fees when they do use contactless payments overseas, depending on the specific country’s credit card payment laws.

•   Low transaction limits: Contactless card users may find they can’t cover large transactions, like a laptop computer or king-size bed. That’s because merchants may issue those limits until they’re convinced contactless payments (like any new technology) are completely safe, secure and free of any fraud threats. In the meantime, contactless card-using consumers can always use the same credit card to make a big purchase by using “chip and sign” or “chip and swipe” card technologies.

•   Not always reliable: Contactless credit card transactions aren’t always reliable, as sometimes the payment won’t go through even though a reader indicates that it accepts contactless payments. This could cause someone to have to resort to swiping their card instead to complete the transaction.

Recommended: What Is a Charge Card?

Guide to Using a Contactless Credit Card

When using a contactless credit card, the transaction is enabled and completed in three key steps: look, tap, and go.

1.    Look. The consumer checks for a contactless symbol on a merchant’s payment device (this will look like a wifi signal tipped on its side).

2.    Tap. After being prompted by the payment device, the consumer will wave the credit card an inch or so over the payment device, or actually touch (tap) the credit card on the payment terminal. This is why the process is sometimes referred to as credit card tap to pay.

3.    Go. Once the wave or tap is executed, the payment device picks up the transaction, confirms the credit card payment, and completes the transaction.

Be mindful that if you carry multiple contactless credit cards, you may want to keep those cards away from a terminal that accepts contactless payments. This will help ensure the correct credit card is being charged. Instead of holding your wallet or purse over the payment terminal, take out the specific card you’d like to use instead.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due?

Are Contactless Credit Cards Safe?

Contactless payment cards basically offer the same anti-fraud protections as any card that relies on a credit card chip.

This is because the chip in contactless credit cards creates a one-time code for each merchant transaction. Once the payment is confirmed and the transaction is approved, the code disappears for good. That makes it virtually impossible for a financial fraudster to steal a consumer’s personal data, as they can’t crack the complicated algorithmic codes financial institutions use with chip-based payment cards.

Additionally, a contactless card is equipped with electromagnetic (RFID) shielding, which helps keep card information from being “skimmed” by data thieves. In turn, this removes another data security threat from the credit card transaction experience.

The Takeaway

Contactless credit cards are emerging as an effective payment technology that’s gathering steam among consumers and retailers alike. Thanks to the tech that enables contactless credit card payment, these credit cards allow you to simply wave or tap the credit card within range of a payment terminal that accepts contactless payments. You can figure out if a payment terminal — and your credit card — offer contactless payment as an option by looking for the contactless payment symbol.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Are there extra charges for using contactless credit cards?

No, there are no extra charges for using contactless credit cards. This is true for the consumer who’s tapping their card as well as for the merchant accepting contactless payments.

What are the risks with contactless credit cards?

While contactless credit cards generally offer enhanced security, there is the risk of a thief skimming cards in your wallet by using a smartphone to read it. However, the thief must be within very close range to do so. Perhaps the easiest way for a thief to get ahold of your information is by stealing your physical credit card, which is a risk with any type of credit card.

Where can I use my contactless credit card?

You can use your credit card at any retailer that has a terminal accepting contactless payments. You can determine if a card reader will take your contactless credit card by looking for the contactless payment symbol.

What happens if I lose my contactless credit card and someone else uses it?

If your card is stolen or lost, contact your credit card issuer immediately. Check your recent credit card transactions for any fraudulent activity, and make sure to report that information to your credit card issuer.


Photo credit: iStock/milan2099

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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