What are contactless credit cards?

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Contactless credit cards allow you to make credit card payments without having to swipe, dip or insert your card into a credit card terminal.

Instead, all you have to do is tap your credit card against the credit card reader. Your transaction should process instantly, often without even requiring a signature. 

How do contactless credit cards work? Each contactless card contains both a chip and the ability to use radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near-field communication (NFC) to communicate with credit card readers. Contactless chip cards can be inserted directly into a credit card terminal, or you can tap the card against the terminal to activate the chip and make your payment over secure radio frequencies.

How do you use a contactless credit card? If you’re making a payment at a credit card terminal that allows contactless transactions or tap-to-pay—and many do, these days—all you have to do is tap your card. If you’ve got one of today’s best credit cards, you’ll earn the same rewards with contactless payment as you would by swiping or dipping your credit card. Many contactless transactions complete in just a few seconds, giving you more time to complete your shopping and get on with your day. 

Are contactless credit cards safe?

Contactless credit cards are just as safe as any other type of credit card. Thanks to the unique way in which the card communicates with the credit card terminal, contactless transactions might even be more secure than standard transactions. 

Contactless credit card security not only uses tokenization to transform your credit card number into a random series of alphanumeric characters, but also creates a one-time cryptographic code that links your card to the transaction. These two measures make it very difficult to hack or steal information from a contactless credit card. 

Some people wonder if they could accidentally make payments with their contactless credit card—if you’re behind someone in the checkout lane, for example, could your contactless card suddenly activate and pay for the other person’s groceries? Since contactless credit cards can only communicate with card readers from a distance of two or three inches away, you don’t have to worry about accidentally making any payments. 

Other people wonder if they need to invest in RFID protection, such as a wallet designed to block RFID frequencies. Not to worry. RFID credit cards already have multiple layers of security built in. And while you can buy an RFID-blocking purse or wallet if you want one, you’re better off using other methods of preventing credit card fraud, such as reviewing your credit card statements and signing up for mobile fraud alerts.

What are the pros and cons of contactless credit cards?

Contactless credit cards give you the opportunity to make quick, easy and secure payments by tapping your card against a credit card terminal. Many contactless credit card transactions can be completed without having to let go of your credit card or touch the card terminal with your hands—instead, all you have to do is tap your card against the card reader. Plus, tap-to-pay transactions often go more quickly than transactions where you swipe, dip or insert your credit card into a card reader. 

Unfortunately, not all card readers offer contactless technology yet. Even when a card terminal does offer contactless payment, the transaction might not always go through and you might have to swipe or insert your credit card the traditional way. Likewise, if you are hoping to use contactless payment to avoid touching a card terminal completely, be aware that some retailers and card issuers still might require you to use the credit card terminal to sign for your purchase. 

That said, more credit card terminals are allowing consumers to make contactless payments, fewer contactless transactions require signatures and the tap-to-pay process continues to run more smoothly.

Are contactless credit cards the same as tap-to-pay?

Contactless credit cards are exactly the same as tap-to-pay. If you see a credit card (or credit card terminal) described as “Tap to Pay,” it is referring to contactless credit card technology. 

Contactless credit cards and tap-to-pay cards also use the same symbol: a series of four curved expanding lines. Look for that icon, which looks a bit like a sideways WiFi icon, on your credit card. That way, you’ll know whether your credit card has contactless capabilities.

Which credit card issuers offer contactless cards?

American Express

Most American Express credit cards are contactless, including its co-branded Delta Air Lines cards. If your American Express card has not been upgraded to a contactless card, you can request a contactless version

Bank of America

Bank of America began issuing contactless credit and debit cards to consumers in 2019. If your Bank of America credit card is not contactless, call the number on the back of your credit card to request a replacement.

Capital One

Many Capital One credit cards are now contactless, including its Savor® and Quicksilver® credit cards. Capital One also offers a contactless debit card for consumers with a 360 Checking account.

Chase

The majority of Chase credit cards are now contactless, including Chase’s co-branded Southwest Airlines credit cards and United Airlines credit cards. If your Chase credit card has not been upgraded to a contactless version, you can request a replacement.

Citi

Select Citi credit cards are now contactless, including Citi’s co-branded American Airlines credit cards.

Discover

Discover is rolling out contactless credit cards to most Discover it® and Discover More® cardholders. If you have a Discover credit card and have not received a contactless version, you can request a contactless card—but be aware that contactless credit card options are not available for all Discover cards. 

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo began issuing contactless credit cards in 2019. New cardholders will automatically receive a contactless Wells Fargo credit card, and existing cardholders will receive contactless cards when their current credit cards expire. If you would like to request a contactless card right away, call the number on the back of your card. Wells Fargo also offers contactless debit cards. 

Bottom line

You may already have a contactless chip card in your wallet—a lot of us do, thanks to recent contactless card rollouts. More and more consumers are choosing to make contactless payments, and the combination of speed, ease of use and contactless credit card security has turned tap-to-pay into an extremely popular payment option.