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In the era of lockdowns and social distancing, you’re probably relying most heavily on your credit card, as you shop online for many of your purchases.
But you might run into a snag and not be able to complete your transaction if you’re trying to use your card after its expiration date.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to keep those purchases coming all year long.
See related: How do credit cards work?
Wear and tear
While your credit card account itself doesn’t expire at a certain time, the piece of plastic associated with it does.
That’s because “magnetic stripes wear out, cards bend,” says Nessa Feddis, a senior vice president at the American Bankers Association.
Because of their propensity to show wear and tear, “issuers want to make sure to get working cards into customers’ hands,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com.
Cards with magnetic stripes typically wear out faster, so they usually expire after three years, Rossman says.
EMV cards, which contain computer chips embedded in them, tend to show less wear than those with magnetic stripes, Rossman says. As a result, many issuers are extending the expiration date on those cards to five years.
Sending you a new card periodically also allows issuers to implement design upgrades and technology updates, according to a spokeswoman for Discover.
Credit cards for retailers such as Macy’s can be an exception and there may be no expiration date on such cards.
Safety and security
Expiration dates also serve as a security measure. If you’re making a purchase online or by phone, you’ll typically be asked to provide your account number, the three- or four-digit security code on the card and the credit card expiration date.
The expiration date helps to verify that your transaction is valid, Feddis says. “It’s another data point to match up.”
For the card issuer, putting an expiration on a credit card helps the company manage its credit card portfolio, Rossman says. About 20% to 30% of credit cards that are issued are never activated.
Having an expiration date on a card serves as a “mechanism for re-evaluating a customer’s standing and potentially clearing dormant cards off the books,” Rossman says.
According to the American Bankers Association, Americans held 373 million credit card accounts in the second quarter of 2020. But that was down from 374 million in the second quarter of 2019. It was the first time the number of accounts has fallen since 2012, no doubt tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, credit card debt fell by $74 billion from the third quarter of 2019 to the third quarter of 2020, according to the New York Federal Reserve. The drop was driven by the economic recession caused by the pandemic.
See related: Many Americans say they’ll spend less after the pandemic than before
Where to look
If you want to check your credit card’s expiration date, you’ll often find it embossed on the front of your card, under your account number and above your name.
It will be embossed with the two-digit month and two-digit year, such as 02/21.
In the past, the raised numbers were needed on the front of a credit card because merchants would use a machine to make an imprint of the numbers on a receipt, and customers would have to sign the receipt. Now those machines are few and far between.
Today you may have a newer chip credit card that has no raised numbers on the front, and the account number is printed on the back.
With those cards, you’ll also find the expiration date on the back of the card, below your account number.
The expiration date is listed as a month and year, so your card is valid through the last day of that month, the Discover spokeswoman says.
Your new card should be sent to you well in advance of the expiration date. Once the new card arrives, be sure to activate it using your computer or by calling in to the number listed on the sticker placed on your card. Sign your card and be sure to destroy your old one.
See related: What do the numbers on your credit card mean?
If you use your credit card to make recurring payments, you’ll need to update your card information with the merchant to make sure your payments continue to go through, the Discover spokeswoman says.
However, many merchants subscribe to credit card issuers’ account updater services. If you get a credit card with a new expiration date, or you receive a card with a new account number, the service updates that information to the merchant, so your credit card payment will continue to be processed.
If your account information doesn’t automatically update, you may receive an email from the merchant, asking you to go to the company’s website and update your information.
Paying attention to your credit card expiration date can help keep your transactions on track throughout the year.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, major credit card issuers are offering relief to their customers.
Even though many places around the country are open, the pandemic continues to impact the U.S. economy. Workers are still at risk of being laid off or facing reduced hours or pay.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we want our customers to know we are here to provide assistance should they need it,â Anand Selva, chief executive officer of Citiâs consumer bank, said in a statement in Spring 2020.
At the same time, scammers are now trying to take advantage of coronavirus concerns by sending out fake emails about the virus that are designed to steal consumersâ personal and financial information or to infect their computers with malware.
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Many credit card issuers are allowing customers to opt into financial relief programs online. These programs are a convenient way to access short-term relief. But it could come with a long-term cost as many cardholders will continue to see interest accrue. With the average credit card interest rate sitting at 16.05%, cardholders might find more cost-effective relief through other options.
Here’s what issuers are currently offering:
Cardholders who are having difficulties can get assistance through American Express’s financial hardship program. Eligible cardholders have the option to enroll in a short-term payment plan, which provides relief for 12 months, or a long-term plan, which can provide relief for either 36 or 60 months.
Under both options, you will receive lower interest rates, plus waived late payment fees and annual fees. But you might not have access to certain card benefits and features.
If you enroll in the short-term plan, you might be able to continue putting new purchases on the card but with a reduced spending limit. If you are participating in the long-term plan, you will not be able to use the card.
Amex will report participating cardholders to the credit bureaus as current, assuming they comply with the program’s rules. But the program’s terms do offer some important caveats: Amex will inform the credit bureaus that you are enrolled in a payment assistance program (if you’re in the long-term plan). And under both plans, Amex will report that you have a lower credit limit.
While these factors do not have as much of an impact on your credit score as a delinquent account does, it could still signal to other lenders that you might be having some financial hardship.
Bank of America
Bank of America cardholders who have trouble paying credit card bills can request a credit card payment deferral by calling the number on the back of their card.
To qualify for payment assistance, cardholders must be carrying a balance, according to the website.
Bank of America sent an email to Preferred Rewards members in May 2020 stating that the company had temporarily suspended the annual program review process. Members whose assets dropped below the regular threshold to keep their status would continue to qualify for program benefits. It is unclear if Bank of America is still suspending this program.
Barclays urges credit card account holders to request payment relief online. As of May 4, 2020, the bank is granting payment relief for two statements, but interest will continue to accrue.
âWe understand that this is a time of uncertainty for many people, and we know that there may be instances where customers find themselves facing financial difficulties. Capital One is here to help and we encourage customers who may be impacted to reach out to discuss how we might be of assistance,â the bank said in a statement.
In a March 26, 2020 update, Chairman and CEO Rich Fairbank confirmed that they are offering waived fees and deferred payments on credit cards for some cardholders.
Because each customerâs situation is different, the bank encourages customers to contact it directly. To contact Capital One customer service about an existing account, call (800) 227-4825.
See related: How to clean your credit card
Previously, Chase Bank stated that customers will be able to “delay up to three payments on your personal or business credit card” if needed, with interest continuing to accrue. The website currently does not specify how many payments cardholders can defer.
It also stated that active duty military members who are responding to a disaster might have access to additional benefits. Servicemembers can call the bank for more information.
In a letter to shareholders, the company’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, also promised to not report late payments to the credit bureaus for “up-to-date clients.”
See related: Chase offering limited-time bonus on food delivery for some cardholders
Citi customers who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic might be eligible for assistance. Previously, the bank was waiving payments and late fees for two consecutive billing cycles. However, Citi has ended its pandemic assistance program.
“Due to a significant and steady decline in enrollments, our formal COVID-19 assistance program has concluded and we will focus on providing assistance options to those customers financially affected by COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis. We continue to closely monitor the situation and will evaluate additional actions to support our customers and communities as needs arise,” a spokesperson for Citi said in an email.
During the bank’s pandemic assistance program, interest continued to accrue, but accounts that were current at the time of enrollment were not be reported as delinquent.
Discover will be extending relief to qualified customers who are experiencing financial difficulty caused by the spread of COVID-19.
“We encourage them to contact us by calling and are directing them to www.discover.com/coronavirus for phone numbers for each product line and other FAQs,” Discover said in a statement earlier this year. “We also can provide relief through our mobile text app, which connects a customer directly with an agent.”
Discover it Miles cardmembers can also put their miles towards their bill â including their minimum payment.
See related: What to do if you can’t pay your business credit card bill
Apple Card customers can enroll in an assistance program. Previously, cardholders could waive payments without accruing any interest. The website currently doesn’t specify if this is still the case.
Cardholders can defer payments for three billing cycles. Though interest will continue to accrue, enrolled cardholders will not receive late fees, and their accounts will be reported as current, as long as accounts were not delinquent at the time of enrollment.
Synchrony is extending relief to customers experiencing financial hardship. The company’s website previously stated that this could include payment relief for up to three statement cycles, while interest would continue to accrue. The website currently offers no specifics about what the issuer is prepared to offer.
Truist (formerly SunTrust and BB&T)
Previously, Truist offered payment relief assistance to customers with personal and business credit cards, among other products. As of April 14, it was willing to delay payments for up to 90 days. The website currently offers no specifics about what the issuer is prepared to offer.
Previously, impacted cardholders could defer monthly payments for two consecutive billing cycles. The company’s website currently does not specify what assistance cardholders can expect to receive.
See related: Coronavirus stimulus legislation doesnât suspend negative credit reporting
ultimate guide to coronavirus limited-time promotions for more offers designed to help cardholders maximize rewards amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Business credit cards
If you are a small-business owner and cash is not flowing and bills are piling up, the most important thing to do is contact your card issuer.
Some banks are also providing assistance in case you can’t pay your business credit card bill.
Another coronavirus complication: Scams
As consumers wrestle with the impact of the coronavirus, scammers are trying to take advantage of the situation.
In a June 2020 public service announcement, the FBI warned that the increasing use of banking apps could open doors to exploitation.
“With city, state and local governments urging or mandating social distancing, Americans have become more willing to use mobile banking as an alternative to physically visiting branch locations. The FBI expects cyber actors to attempt to exploit new mobile banking customers using a variety of techniques, including app-based banking trojans and fake banking apps,” the PSA warns.
Scammers might also be capitalizing on health and economic uncertainties during this time. In one such scam, cybercriminals are sending emails claiming to contain updates about the coronavirus. But if a consumer clicks on the links, they are redirected to a website that steals their personal information, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).
Identity theft in 2020: What you need to know about common techniques
The outbreak of a disease can upset daily life in many ways, and the ripple effects go beyond our physical health. Thankfully, many card issuers are offering relief. If you’re feeling financially vulnerable, contact your credit card issuer and find out what assistance is available. And while data security may seem like a secondary consideration, it’s still important to be vigilant when conducting business or seeking information about the coronavirus online.