One of the best things about our level of technology these days is that it can make our lives so much easier, as well as provide incredible levels of security against fraudsters and other criminals. However, they aren't without issues, and anyone who has been at the register when their credit card chip doesn't work can attest that while they make payments easy, they aren't completely foolproof.
If your credit card chip is not working, there are a few things you can try on the spot. The first is to just reinsert the chip and have the terminal request a swipe, though some merchants do not allow this. You can also try to clean the chip right there by rubbing it with a cloth or dollar bill.
Credit card chips are still relatively new technology, and while they have helped to protect countless consumers from the activities of criminals and counterfeiters, they can still throw a wrench into your day if you need to buy something and they aren't working correctly. If you have a credit card or a debit card with a chip, there is a good chance that it will eventually happen to you, too. With this in mind, it's best to be prepared and not only understand why the issue may be happening but know how you might be able to get it working again so you can get on with your day.
Chip On Credit Card Not Working
If the chip on your credit card isn't working, try not to stress too much about it, it's relatively common, and in many cases, it can be fixed easily and quickly. It can certainly inconvenience you and may even delay plans or errands that you have, but rarely will it mean that you can no longer use that card.
The chip in your credit card is incredibly robust and resistant to damage. In most situations, the frequent use and handling of your card have allowed a bit of dirt and grime to build up on the contacts of the chip. This keeps the reader from cleanly reading the chip and frequently produces an error. The good news is that this problem is super easy to fix, using something you probably already have in your pocket or purse.
My Credit Card Chip Doesn't Work
Frequently, it will just require that you try the chip again since, in the majority of situations the reader simply didn't read it correctly. Other times you may need to give the credit card chip a quick little cleaning before you step out of the checkout line to try other methods. Only in rare circumstances will the chip be damaged and unusable until replaced.
The default attempt is usually to try to clean the chip surface with a bit of your shirt fabric or sleeve, and while this can work, it's not usually the most effective way to get that chip surface cleaned off. What most people don't notice is that while some of the stuff blocking contact with the chip is dirt, some are actually thin layers of corrosion, which is much more challenging to clean off without damaging the chip.
Can Magnets Damage Credit Card Chips?
The chips on credit cards and debit cards aren't susceptible to magnetic damage or becoming demagnetized. They are tiny chips similar to the ones on your computer, tablet, and smartphone. These super-thin sandwiches of silicon and copper, among other things, are not made or encoded with magnetic information, and so magnets have zero effect on them.
What Causes A Credit Card Chip To Stop Working?
There are several reasons that a credit card chip may stop working, and they all have their unique solution. Your chip may simply be dirty, or it could be damaged to the point of being unusable. It may also turn out that your card issuer believes that your account has been compromised, or in some cases, it isn't the fault of the card or the card issuer and lies with the register or terminal equipment itself.
Also read: Can 16-Year-Olds Get Credit Cards?
The chip on your credit card or debit card is being stored in your wallet or purse and is handled any time you need to make a purchase or provide proof of identity. This means that your chip is likely to get dirty just as a matter of regular use. If you live in an area with any sort of temperature and humidity fluctuations, it's also likely that some of what looks like dirt is light corrosion.
It's not common, but damaging your chip is possible and is not entirely unheard of. The most common ways that a chip can be irreparably damaged is if it is bent, dented, or even crushed. Even though the chips are highly durable and able to withstand some significant wear and tear, they aren't invincible, and if you put them through enough, they will eventually need to be replaced by getting a new card from your issuer.
Chip Reader & System Problems
While this reason is generally one of the rarest and least likely to occur, it does still happen. Sometimes, it turns out that the issue doesn't lie with your card but rather with the machine or terminal that is trying to read it or complete the transaction.
There is the potential that the software or system that is responsible for transmitting or processing the payment may be down, which will produce an automatic purchase declined result. In some extremely rural areas with slow communication channels between their payment systems and the national provider networks, this can be a common result since the transactions can time out relatively quickly.
Having Your Account Locked Or Frozen
If you have been using your account in unusual ways, have a sudden and dramatic increase in transaction volume or value, or have been using your card extensively outside of your usual geographic location, there is the possibility that your creditor has locked or frozen your account. This is a common measure taken to help prevent or mitigate fraudulent activity. This is more common than people realize, particularly with the rise in fraud that was seen during the pandemic. Many creditors and debit account providers have tightened their fraud control measures, and if they have any reason to suspect that your account has been compromised, they will lock it to prevent or minimize further charges.
In most cases, however, this is quickly and easily resolved by placing a call to your credit provider or card issuer. Be sure you do this from your home or vehicle, though, since you will likely have to give them confidential personal information during the call, which you won't want anyone to overhear. They will usually ask you a few questions to verify your identity and authority to access the account; then, they will often have you verbally confirm the last several charges or authorize a suspicious transaction before releasing your account. This means you can often get back to what you were doing unless the issue happens after-hours or on a holiday, in which case you may be in for a more significant delay.
Credit Card Chip Not Working Fix
If you've eliminated potential causes of account issues and physical chip damage, the most likely problem is a dirty and corroded chip. Here are two workarounds and one easy fix that you can try without holding up the register line.
Fail Multiple Times & Swipe
In most cases, when the chip fails, it will assume it's a read error and will have you remove and reinsert the card. Be sure you are inserting the card straight and in one clean motion, taking care not to bump it as you pull your hand away, which can cause errors.
If the chip read fails 3 times, most card terminals will have you swipe the card as a fall-back method. This should work in most locations; however, some merchants will not allow the purchase to continue without a chip since it may open them up to liability issues with fraud.
Tap To Pay
Another workaround is to use the NFC payment chip that is in many credit cards and debit cards. You will be able to tell if your card has it because it will have the tap-to-pay icon on the side of the card with the chip in it. Simply hold the card near the NFC reader on the terminal, and your purchase should be processed.
Borrow A Buck
The best way to deal with a dirty or corroded chip is to grab a dollar bill, fold it around the end of the card, and gently rub and polish the chip. The paper that dollars are made out of has the perfect mix of abrasion and softness to clean the chip and remove corrosion without damage.
Understand Why Your Credit Card Chip Isn't Working & How To Fix It
It can be more than a little embarrassing and anxiety-inducing when you're at the register of a busy store and your credit card chip isn't working. It may show up as an error, or it may even show a declined transaction, depending on the situation and the software. The key to handling the situation, however, is understanding what might be wrong and implementing one of the easy and actionable methods for fixing it.
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Shawn Manaher is a former financial advisor, has founded 5 online businesses, and is a coach, speaker, podcast host, and author. He's been featured on Forbes, The Consults Corner on TAE Radio, The Writing Biz, What's Your Story, and more.