Credit cards contain technology that helps communicate your account information to make purchases. This is usually done through a chip or a magnetic strip, making the maintenance of these physical aspects of your card important.
The magnetic strip on the back of your card is especially vulnerable as it can get worn down each time you swipe to make a purchase. It can also sustain damage if exposed to a magnet for a prolonged period of time.
What data is stored on a credit card’s magnetic strip?
When you swipe your credit card in a card reader, whether to pay for gas or groceries, the card reader gets information that allows it to process your purchase.
The data stored on the magnetic strip of your credit card contains your name, account number and the expiration date for your card and communicates your card limit, card number and card usage information. The strip also comes with an encrypted pin, country code and information about currency units.
Do magnets affect credit cards?
Magnets have the potential to erase or scramble the information on your credit card, however, the exact effect depends on a variety of factors, including the length of exposure and distance from the card.
The longer a card is exposed to a magnet (usually within an inch or closer), the more likely the magnet is to erase information on the magnetic strip. Thankfully, it may take multiple, long-term interactions with a magnet to cause harm to your card.
Can a magnetic money clip or cell phone holder affect credit cards?
Magnetic money clips and cell phone holders can make transporting your cards more convenient, but they may cause damage after some time.
In some cases, money clips have magnets on both sides, making it difficult to create a necessary buffer or distance between your card and the magnets.
Leather product company Moore & Giles recommends its customers use money clips for cash, rather than credit cards, as the leather strip on certain products isn’t enough to wholly prevent demagnetization.
Cell phones, on the other hand, have very small magnets inside of the device, meaning the outer shell of the phone can act as a buffer between your cards and keep them safe from potential damage.
In general, it’s better to keep your cards in a wallet that will provide some protection from demagnetization. It’s also good practice to face card magnetic strips away from any magnets that may be around.
Other damage that could prevent your card from working
Keeping your card’s magnetic strip away from magnets is one way to take care of your credit card, but magnets aren’t the only causes of damage.
Magnetic strips can also sustain damage from being scratched, for example, by a key or coin. These scratches can make it difficult for card readers to pick up the information on the magnetic strip and can cause a card to eventually be unusable.
Most cards also come with an EMV chip that allows them to be used contactlessly. Luckily these chips aren’t affected by magnets, but scratches or prolonged exposure to water can cause damage or make them stop working altogether.
What to do if your card is damaged
If your credit card becomes damaged, contact your issuer right away to report the issue. Your issuer may be able to troubleshoot the problem with you to get the card working again, and if that isn’t possible, they can at least offer you a replacement card.
Replacement cards usually take about three-to-seven business days to arrive. If you need to use your card before then, you can ask your issuer to expedite the shipping of your replacement card or possibly request a virtual card.