Card updater services keep customers' auto-payments flowing

Visa, AmEx, MasterCard and Discover will update expired, changed card info



Your Business Credit
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for

Ask Elaine a question or read her prior answers in the 'Your Business Credit' archive.

Question Dear Your Business Credit,
Hi. Some time ago you wrote an article about how businesses can update expired credit cards automatically, and it referenced American Express' Cardrefresher services. Unfortunately this appears to be some kind of phantom service as literally no one at AmEx responds to inquiries (email or phone). How do you suggest businesses proceed to enroll in this service? -- Jason

Answer Dear Jason,
Thank you for letting me know that you've been having trouble reaching them. It's always helpful when readers alert us if past stories need an update.

I contacted the media relations office of American Express and confirmed that the service still active. "Cardrefresher is a service that is offered to our midsize and large merchants," a spokesman said in an email. "Merchants who are interested in using the service can contact or contact their American Express client manager."

For readers who are not familiar, this service is for merchants that accept American Express cards for automated payments. If the customer's card number or expiration date changes, it will update that information for the merchant.

Why would a business subscribe to a service like this? Many companies find that customers don't always remember to update them when a credit card number or expiration date used for an automated payment has changed. That means that if they can't reach the customer, they have to decline the card. This can lead to interrupted service and, in some cases, a lost customer for the merchant.  

All four of the major credit card payment processing networks offer an account updating service. In addition to American Express:

  • Visa Account Updater says you can enroll through a participating acquiring bank. Your acquiring bank is the institution that processes and settles your account transactions.
  • The MasterCard Automatic Billing Updater is also offered through acquiring banks. It is available for use with customers who have card-on-file billing arrangements.
  • Discover, like American Express, is its own bank, so it offers the service directly as an add-on product called Account Updater.

For many entrepreneurs, the "automated business," where customers all put you on auto-pay, is the holy grail, because the owners never have to chase down payments. Card updater services can help an automated business run more smoothly -- but they can only go so far.

Card account numbers change for a variety of reasons, and the switches have been rampant of late, as card accounts change due to card upgrades to EMV chips or are reissued due to fraud or when a portfolio of millions of cards switches banks or brands. They can also change for more everyday reasons: They expire, or get lost.

Many of us have realized that, as consumers, we're being automatically billed for a service we no longer use -- and eventually cancel it. If you're a merchant who is collecting payments from customers who aren't getting any benefit from what you sell, you will not be able to count on them to keep paying you indefinitely.

And with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently issuing a reminder to companies that they must obtain consumer consent to debit money from their checking accounts, merchants need to pay extra attention to how they handle auto-pay agreements. Businesses must make sure customers are fully aware of information such as the amount and timing of payments.

So what do you do? Figuring out how to re-engage with inactive customers before they cancel can help you prevent attrition. For instance, at a gym, you might alert your mailing list about a popular new exercise machine you've added or class you've introduced so they come back in. The more excited they are about what you have to offer, the more likely they are to update their credit card information on their own, so you don't have to use outside services to do so.

See related: Auto-pay clients leave you open to more fraud, not EMV liability,

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Published: November 30, 2015

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Updated: 10-27-2016

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