In the era of lockdowns and social distancing, youâre 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 youâre 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 doesnât expire at a certain time, the piece of plastic associated with it does.
Thatâs because âmagnetic stripes wear out, cards bend,â says Nessa Feddis, a senior vice president at the American Bankers Association.
Because of their propensity to show wear and tear, âissuers want to make sure to get working cards into customersâ hands,â 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 Macyâs 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 youâre making a purchase online or by phone, youâll 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. âItâs another data point to match up.â
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 âmechanism for re-evaluating a customerâs standing and potentially clearing dormant cards off the books,â 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:Â Many Americans say they’ll spend less after the pandemic than before
Where to look
If you want to check your credit cardâs expiration date, youâll 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, youâll 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, youâll 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 issuersâ 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 doesnât automatically update, you may receive an email from the merchant, asking you to go to the companyâs website and update your information.
Paying attention to your credit card expiration date can help keep your transactions on track throughout the year.
Sending cash to friends and family? Before you reach for that credit card, grab a calculator. It’s time to do a little math.
With most everything you purchase online or through apps, credit cards have the edge. With plastic, you have chargeback rights. If you’re overcharged or receive the wrong item, broken merchandise or nothing at all, your card issuer will make it right. And if you use a rewards card, you collect points or miles, too. Win-win.
But it’s different story when you’re sending money through peer-to-peer platforms. Many of them (like Google Pay, Popmoney and Zelle), don’t allow consumers to use a credit card to send cash.
Others (like Cash App, PayPal and Venmo), allow credit cards but also charge a fee for the privilege – often about 3%.
See related: How to choose a P2P payment service
The hidden costs of using credit cards to send money
Choose a credit card to send money and you might also end up paying additional fees to your card issuer. That’s because the combination of some peer-to-peer apps with certain cards are coded as cash advances, rather than purchases.
For many cards, that cash advance code triggers a higher interest rate that kicks in the moment you make the transaction, as well as a separate cash advance fee that’s often $10 or 5% of the transaction – whichever is higher. (Currently, the average interest rate for cash advances is 24.8%, while the average APR for purchases is 16.05%.)
So the combination of peer-to-peer service fees, credit card cash advance fees and that higher interest rate (with no grace period) could make sending a few hundred dollars a bit more costly than you’d planned.
No chargeback rights with credit cards
The real kicker: Unlike other venues, you don’t have chargeback rights when you use credit cards to make peer-to-peer money transfers.
When you present your credit card in an online or brick-and-mortar store, there’s a merchant involved – and the law provides chargeback rights for your protection in case you don’t get what you were promised in the deal. But in a peer-to-peer money transfer, there’s no merchant, so currently the laws don’t give consumers any chargeback rights, says Christina Tetreault, manager of financial policy for Consumer Reports.
“The chargeback right requires a merchant,” says Tetreault. “One of the hoops a consumer has to jump through is to try and work it out with the merchant.”
If you use a peer-to-peer service and send the wrong amount or send the money to the wrong person, most platforms advise that the only way to get it back is to contact the recipient and ask them to return it. And that’s often the same whether you use a credit card, debit card, bank account or funded account on the platform.
“Be doubly sure when you’re sending the money that you’re putting in the correct information,” says John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud for the National Consumers League. “It’s still a buyer beware world when it comes to peer-to-peer.”
If you’re sending money and want to use a credit card, it pays to do a little sleuthing first. Check out the peer-to-peer site. Does it allow users to send money with a credit card? If so what, if any, fees does it charge?
On some platforms (PayPal is one), you could see similar fees for using a debit card – while sending from a bank account or funded account on the platform is free.
The good news is that many peer-to-peer platforms clearly disclose it when there’s an extra charge to use a credit card, says Tetreault. With Venmo, for example, you’ll get a pop-up message.
Harder to decipher: Will credit card transactions on the platform be treated as a cash advance? If your preferred platform doesn’t post this information, you might need to contact customer service. (And how quickly and easily you get an answer can tell you a lot, too.)
Ask your card issuer the same question: Are peer-to-peer money transfers on the platform you’ve chosen treated as a cash advance? If they are, what’s the interest rate, and what’s the cash advance fee?
“What I would suggest is to ask that question, via email, of your financial institution,” says Tetreault. “It may be in their FAQs. And you want to save that email. If you have it in writing, if there’s an issue later, you’re better positioned to contest that fee.”
But “the hard truth is you may not be able to find out ahead of time,” she says.
Another solution: Opt to use a credit card issued by a credit union.
“With credit unions, the APR is usually the same” for purchases and cash advances, says John Bratsakis, president and CEO of the Maryland and District of Columbia Credit Union Association.
Likewise, with American Express cards you pay your regular interest rate and no cash advance fees on peer-to-peer transfers, says Elizabeth Crosta, vice president of public affairs for American Express.
And credit cards from U.S. Bank register peer-to-peer money transfers as regular purchases – with no cash advance fees or cash advance APRs, says Rick Rothacker, spokesperson for the bank.
See related: How do credit card APRs work?
What’s your reason for using a credit card?
Take a good look at the reason you’re using a credit card, too. If you want chargeback rights, that’s not an option. If you’re doing it for the rewards, will the value of those points or miles be eaten up by extra fees or a higher interest rate you have to pay to use the card?
And if you’re using a card because you don’t have the cash, that might be a good reason to rethink the idea of sending money in the first place.
That’s a huge red flag, says Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
“The need to convert credit into cash is what really gets my attention – because that hints at a lack of savings,” he said. “It’s a reality a lot of people are facing, especially now.”
Cash advances aren’t as expensive or risky as payday loans and car title loans, but they should be among your last resorts. If you’re looking for short-term relief, you could ask your credit card issuer for help, or find out if you qualify for a personal loan. You could also borrow from a family member or trusted friend, but be wary of the potential relationship toll if you can’t pay them back.
Getting cash from credit cards
Fifty-two percent of Americans report that the pandemic has damaged their finances, according to a recent survey by the NFCC. More than a fifth of those had to tap savings for everyday expenses, while 16% increased their credit card spending.
And that’s a sign of financial stress, says McClary. “It means that, in some situations, they have run out of savings.”
There are ways you can use your card to get cash, though.
Cashing in rewards
Some rewards cards from issuers such as Chase, Bank of America and US Bank let you deposit cash-back rewards directly to your bank account.
And Wells Fargo also will let you deposit its Go Far Rewards directly into another Wells Fargo customer’s account, says Sarah DuBois, spokesperson for the bank.
Many credit cards let you convert rewards into retail gift cards. So a pile of points can help a friend or family member buy much-needed groceries or a few holiday presents.
Or simply “buy a gift card for someone,” says Bratsakis.
Retailer-specific gift cards and gift cards issued through local and regional retail associations and malls often come with no fees – meaning every dollar you spend goes toward your gift.
While you can get a cash advance or use convenience checks from your card issuer, both those options often come with fees and higher interest rates. Not a smart money move, especially in the current economy.
While some lenders may offer convenience checks with deferred interest, that’s not the same as “no interest,” says Bratsakis. Also, if you don’t pay the loan in full, will you owe the full interest retroactively?
“That’s where consumers have to be careful,” he says. With a convenience check or even a cash advance, “that’s usually where consumers can get themselves into trouble if they can’t pay it off and get hit with deferred interest.”
See related: What is deferred interest?
When it comes to peer-to-peer payments, cash really is king. You can then put it into a funded account with the money transfer platform or your bank account. And most peer-to-peer platforms let you do this for free.
“The safest way to use these services is to send money person-to-person and be diligent about getting all the details correct so it doesn’t go to the wrong person,” says Tetreault.
Only send to people you trust and know in real life, she says. “And before sending money make sure you understand what, if any, fees you might incur.”