It’s your turn at the supermarket checkout. You insert your card into the reader, chip-side first, like you always do. And you get a “card declined” message.
A credit card malfunction can be a small embarrassment and disruption in your day-to-day life. But if your credit card chip stops working, don’t panic. There are several reasons why it might be malfunctioning, including wear and tear, dirt buildup, or an issue with your account.
Let’s dig into the basics of credit card chips, the different reasons a credit card chip might stop working, and what to do if it malfunctions.
💡 Quick Tip: If you have a good credit score, you can apply for a credit card from SoFi without a security deposit.
What Is a Credit Card Chip?
A credit card chip is a microchip that’s embedded in your credit card. The chip protects your data when you make an in-person payment. It uses a process called tokenization that encrypts your information, and generates a one-time code for each transaction.
Thanks to this technology, your credit card information is never received or transmitted by the merchant. This lowers the instances of credit card fraud when you use your card in a store or restaurant.
How a credit card chip works
This technology is also known as “card-and-PIN,” “card-and-signature,” or EMV (aka Europay, MasterCard, and Visa). The microchip that’s embedded in your card uses a process called tokenization. This is the same technology used in contactless credit cards and payments. In short, tokenization takes your sensitive card information and converts it into a unique token. This token protects your card info and account details.
The credit card chip holds encrypted data and transaction codes. These transaction codes are unique, one-time use, and always changing. As a result, it’s hard for counterfeit thieves to duplicate the data that’s stored on the chip.
Credit card chip types
Within the realm of credit cards, there are three main chip types:
Standard “smart cards:” If you want to make an in-person purchase or take out cash at an ATM, many “smart cards” with the EMV chip technology simply require you to insert or “dip” your card into the card terminal.
Chip-and-PIN cards: This type of credit credit chip offers the most security. To make a purchase or make a withdrawal from an ATM with a chip-and-PIN card, you’ll need to first “dip” your card into the card reader, then punch in your credit card PIN code.
Chip-and-signature cards: This type of chip card provides a bit more security than if you simply swiped your card, but it’s not as secure as the chip-and-PIN type card. As the name implies, to use your card, you insert your card into the reader, then provide a signature for the transaction to go through.
Chip-and-signature cards aren’t as secure as their chip-and-PIN counterparts because it’s easier for fraudsters to forge a signature than to decipher your 4-digit PIN.
5 Things That Can Cause a Credit Card Chip to Stop Working
Here are some reasons why your credit card stopped working, and how to avoid these hiccups from happening:
Your card encounters dirt each time you insert or swipe in a machine, and grime will build up over time. This grime buildup could mean the terminal can’t read your card. To avoid this from happening, wipe down your card periodically.
Wear and tear
Over time, the chip can get scratched or damaged. While scratches to the plastic on your card won’t cause any issues, scratches or dings to the chip might cause your chip to stop working and the transaction won’t go through.
To prevent wear and tear, consider protecting your physical card with a protective sleeve holder. These are usually made of a thin yet durable material, like synthetic fibers.
Heat or water damage
If you accidentally spill coffee and your credit card gets doused in the hot liquid, or you leave your card in the hot car in the middle of summer, the chip on your card might get warped and go on the fritz.
To avoid this from happening, keep your card in your wallet when not in use. And be mindful of exposing it to extreme heat.
Recommended: All You Need to Know About Credit Card Numbers
Issue with the card reader
Your card might not be the problem at all. Sometimes the issue might have to do with the card reader, also known as the terminal, which acts as the middle man between the retailer and the bank, and authorizes and processes your payment. If there’s a technical glitch with the terminal, your chip might not work.
In this case, try swiping your card instead of doing the chip-and-PIN route. Hopefully that will resolve the issue and your payment will go through.
Issue with your account
Sometimes when your chip stops working it’s because there’s an issue with your account. Common reasons include going over your credit limit, the billing info doesn’t match with your account, or you’re making purchases in locations where you don’t normally shop.
To steer clear of this potential issue, watch your credit limit. You can log on to your account or check your card balance on your card’s mobile app. If you’re using your card while on a business trip or vacation, set a vacation alert.
💡 Quick Tip: When using your credit card, make sure you’re spending within your means. Ideally, you won’t charge more to your card in any given month than you can afford to pay off that month.
What to Do if Your Credit Card Chip Stops Working
Here’s how to fix your credit card’s chip if it’s not working:
Clean the card
If your chip is malfunctioning because of dirt buildup, try to clean your card. Gently wipe it down with an antibacterial wipe, alcohol pad, or microfiber cloth. You can also gently wipe around the edges of your chip with a cotton swab.
The magnetic stripe on your card also contains your account data. If the problem is with the checkout terminal, try swiping instead of dipping your card. There’s a chance that your transaction will go through without a hitch.
Get a replacement card
If the chip on your card regularly doesn’t work and no amount of cleaning fixes the problem, you might need to reach out to your credit card issuer and ask for a new one. You can do so by calling the number on the back of your card or on the issuer’s website or app. You can sometimes request a new card directly on the app or issuer’s website.
How long it will take for you to receive a replacement card depends on the credit card issuer, but you can expect it to take anywhere from one to seven business days. There might be a charge for a replacement card and a charge if you want shipment to be expedited.
There are a handful of reasons why your credit card chip stopped working. By doing a bit of investigating, you can get to the root of the issue and troubleshoot accordingly. Most likely you’ll just need to wipe down the card, but sometimes you may need to request a new one.
Looking for a new credit card? Consider a rewards card that can make your money work for you. With the SoFi Credit Card, you earn cash-back rewards on all eligible purchases. You can then use those rewards for travel or to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.
The SoFi Credit Card offers unlimited 2% cash back on all eligible purchases. There are no spending categories or reward caps to worry about.1
What do you do if your credit card chip doesn’t work?
If your credit card chip isn’t working, don’t get frustrated. There’s usually a simple explanation why. It could be the result of normal wear-and-tear, heat or water damage, or grime buildup. Or it could be an issue with the card terminal or your account.
Try to clean your card to see if that helps. If you’re in the middle of a purchase, swipe your card instead of inserting it into the terminal. In some instances, you might need to replace your credit card.
What can ruin a chip in a credit card?
There are a few ways a credit card chip can get ruined: regular wear and tear, grime buildup, or extreme heat or water damage.
Can you still use your card if the chip is broken?
You can still use your card by swiping. However, swiping your card instead of going the “chip-and-PIN” or “chip-and-signature” route reduces its security.
Photo credit: iStock/Juanmonino
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.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A. pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. 1