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?
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.
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
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.