Why do credit cards expire?
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And the Truth in Lending Act has allowed those kinds
of changes for "a very long time," says Jean Ann Fox,
director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America.
What you should know: Issuers can change any material terms on your
card contract with 15 days warning, says Fox.
What about debit cards?
Many banks also use expiration dates on their
debit cards, citing fraud protection as the reason.
"With our check cards, which are Visa check cards, Visa requires
us to have expiration dates as a security measure," says Mary
Beth Navarro, communications manager for retail banking for Wachovia
The extra bit of information is meant to verify identity if the
consumer uses the card online or by phone.
Wachovia also puts dates on its own ATM cards, Navarro says. "The
reason we leave them on ATM cards is we don't want to confuse customers,
where they have expiration dates on some of their cards and not
on others," she says.
And, as with credit cards, banks want current information so that
they can market their products more effectively, says Manning. "It's
an easy way of collecting information on the account," he says.
"The key is to cross-market a lot of these products they have."
Time's (almost) up?
So what do you do if your plastic is nearing its expiration
First off, start watching the mailbox. Banks and issuers will typically
send out the new card the month before or the beginning of the month
during which your current plastic expires, says Staten. It can vary,
though, so if you have any questions, call the issuing bank.
This could cause problems if you are traveling or otherwise unavailable
when your old card expires. Before you hop on that plane, check
the dates on your plastic. If your card's nearly up, either arrange
for them to overnight a new one or take another piece of plastic.
Another thing to check with a new card: terms. In an age of multiple
bank mergers, new plastic often signals new terms on your account.
So grab that magnifying glass and read the contract thoroughly.
What's the APR? What's the billing cycle and due date? What are
the circumstances that could trigger a late charge or bad mark on
And if you don't like the terms of the new contract, don't use
the card. Cut it up and notify the company in writing. Many will
let you pay off your balance under the old terms as long as you
don't use the card again.
You might also want to take a look at how much time they've given
you before the new card expires, says Manning.
"They may have a profile of this person as someone who's moving
a lot or have something in the account information where they are
labeled a higher risk," he says. "If I get an account
that has an expiration date of less than four years, I would call
up and find out what they've done to label me."
While the bank might not reveal "the nitty gritty, they should
be able to tell you why it's two years rather than four," he
If you activate the card, be careful what information you release.
Assume any phone numbers or e-mail addresses will be used for marketing.
"Most people don't think that way," says Manning.
"Don't use the telephone number you use for your personal
calls," he says. Give them the same e-mail address you use
in situations where you expect spam, he says. "Don't let them
clog up your system."
And cut up the old card once you've activated the new one.
So is an upcoming expiration date a good time to talk terms with
your card company?
"It's always a good time to renegotiate," says Staten.
"If you think you're in a position where you think the issuer
would be sorry to see you go, you can always call and bargain for
a better rate."
Dana Dratch is a freelance
writer based in Atlanta.