Credit cards contain technology that allows your account information to be communicated to make purchases. This is usually done via a chip or magnetic stripe, which makes maintaining these physical aspects of your card important.
The magnetic stripe on the back of your card is particularly vulnerable because it can wear out every time you swipe to make a purchase. It can also be damaged if exposed to a magnet for an extended period of time.
What data is stored on the magnetic stripe of a credit card?
When you swipe your credit card into a card reader, whether paying for gas or groceries, the card reader obtains information that enables it to process your purchase.
The data stored on your credit card’s magnetic stripe contains your name, account number and card expiration date and communicates your card limit, card number and card usage information. The tape also comes with an encrypted PIN code, country code, and currency unit information.
Do magnets affect credit cards?
Magnets have the potential to erase or scramble your credit card information, however, the exact effect depends on a variety of factors including the length of exposure and the distance from the card.
The longer a card is exposed to a magnet (usually within an inch), the more likely the magnet is to erase information on the magnetic stripe. Fortunately, it may take several long-term interactions with a magnet to damage your card.
Can a magnetic money clip or cell phone holder affect credit cards?
Magnetic money clips and cell phone holders can make carrying your cards more convenient, but they can cause damage after a while.
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 products company Moore and Gilles recommends its customers to use money clips for cash, rather than credit cards, as the leather band of some products is not enough to completely prevent demagnetization.
Cell phones, on the other hand, have very small magnets inside the device, which means the phone’s outer shell can act as a buffer between your cards and protect them from potential damage.
In general, it is best to keep your cards in a wallet that will offer some protection against degaussing. It is also recommended that you place the magnetic strips on the card away from any magnets that may be nearby.
Other damage that could prevent your card from working
Keeping your card’s magnetic stripe away from magnets is one way to take care of your credit card, but magnets aren’t the only cause of damage.
Magnetic tapes can also be damaged by scratches, for example, by a key or a coin. These scratches can make it difficult for card readers to read the information on the magnetic strip and can eventually render a card unusable.
Most cards also come with a EMV chip that allows them to be used without contact. Fortunately, these chips are unaffected by the magnets, but scratches or prolonged exposure to water can damage them or prevent them from functioning completely.
What to do if your card is damaged
If your credit card is damaged, contact your issuer immediately to report the problem. Your issuer may be able to resolve the issue with you to get the card to work again, and if that is not possible, they may at least offer you a replacement card.
Replacement cards typically take three to seven business days to arrive. If you need to use your card before this date, you can ask your issuer to expedite the shipment of your replacement card or possibly request a virtual card.