'Smart chip' debit cards transition going slowly

By Dana Dratch

'Smart chip' debit cards transition going slowly
'Smart chip' debit cards transition going slowly

When it comes to converting from mag stripes to chips, credit cards have soaked up all the limelight.

But debit cards are changing, too. 

Currently, not every credit card has been replaced with an EMV-chipped version, and that transition is going more slowly with debit cards. "It's still not the norm," says Chris Henry, head of products for consumer and business banking for Chase. 

"We are seeing rapid adoption," he says. "But it's not where we hoped, as an industry."

Want to get the jump on the debit transition? Here are seven things you need to know:

1. You may not receive a new card for a while

The rollout for chipped credit cards is still ongoing. While some issuers had cards out to consumers by Oct. 1, 2015, others are still switching over. And some are waiting until the credit card's expiration date, says Ericksen.

With debit cards, some issuers admit the pace has been a bit slower than with credit cards.

With credit cards, issuers will have replaced a little more than half the mag stripe cards with chipped versions by the end of 2015, says Vanderhoof. With debit cards, "I don't know if we'll get to 50 percent," he says.

With Visa-branded credit and debit cards, "By the end of 2017, roughly 98 percent of all cards will be converted," says Ericksen.

It also varies by institution.

If your debit card is from Chase, you'll have it in your hands before the end of next March, says Henry. Eighty percent will be sent before the end of this year, and the rest should go out during the first quarter of 2016, he says.

Likewise, most Bank of America debit card holders will receive their chip cards before they ring in 2016. With both debit and credit cards, "the vast majority" will be replaced by smart-chip cards "by the end of the year," says Betty Riess, spokeswoman for Bank of America.

But if you want it sooner, that can be arranged. Many issuers will send you a new card with a chip right away if you ask.

"You can call our call center and have it sent," Henry says. "Or go into a branch that has an instant-issue device and get one there."

What you might not know: Smart-chip readers also work on mag-stripe cards, says Vanderhoof. "And chip-enabled terminals must accept mag stripe cards. Merchants can't refuse to accept payment because the card has a mag stripe."

2. Your new 'smart debit card' will have a dumb ol' mag stripe

Yes, your smart-chip card will also have a mag stripe. And the same information that's on the current mag stripe will be on the new one. So you can still use the card at retailers or ATMs that don't have a smart-chip reader.

Bottom line: While it's nearly impossible to destroy the chips, you'll need to keep the card away from anything that could demagnetize the mag stripe, says Nessa Feddis, a senior vice president with the American Bankers Association.

So how long before that mag stripe goes away? "That is really going to be up to the merchants," says Danielle Fagre Arlowe, a senior vice president with the American Financial Services Association, an industry trade group.

3. You'll likely have to update online accounts and recurring charge settings

Have your debit card information stored in an online merchant account? Or do you use it to autopay recurring bills?

Unfortunately, you may need to update all those accounts and settings when you get your new card. While some card issuers are giving customers new card numbers when they send out chipped cards, others are not. 

"We, in almost all cases, have decided to issue new numbers when we issue a new chip card," says Chase's Henry. "That's our approach for almost all our cards. We're trying to protect the consumer."

Even if your issuer doesn't change the card number, the new cards will carry new expiration dates and different three-digit security numbers on the back. So you'll have to update that information if you want to use your card with those merchants, says Stephanie Ericksen, vice president of risk products for Visa.

Even better: Consider using a credit card this time. That way, if something ever happens, you'll only need to get a credit to your card account, instead of trying to replace cash to your bank account.

4. Put away the tinfoil: Your card won't likely have an RFID chip

RFID chips contain tiny antennas and can be read without physical contact, so they're also called "contactless chips," says Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance. But that's not what the majority of the new chipped credit and debit cards will contain, he says.

If you want to know for certain, contact the issuer, he advises.

Before the current wave of smart cards hit the market, about one-fifth of credit and debit cards had RFID chips, he says. But due to cost and "a lack of demand by consumers," most issuers have dropped the contactless feature on chipped cards, Vanderhoof says. "Today, we're seeing a small percentage -- less than 5 percent -- being issued with the contactless feature."

5. Chips won't stop thieves from using accounts online

That smart chip "won't stop card-not-present fraud," says Christina Tetreault, a staff attorney with Consumers Union.

In a brick-and-mortar store, if a criminal tries to use a cloned mag stripe-only version of your card, "the readers are supposed to have enough of a brain to know the card should have a chip in it," she says. "It should provide a yellow flag. Maybe not a red flag. But it gives a bit of notice so the system knows something's not right here."

6. Scammers are taking advantage of the transition

"The biggest challenge we're seeing are the phishing scams," says Tetreault.

How it works: You'll get an email or a text, purporting to be from your card issuer or a merchant where you use your card, saying "we need to input your account number," she says. "That's the biggest risk we're hearing about."

So even though the cards have changes, the common-sense security rules haven't: Never respond to a text or email or phone call requesting your account number. 

If you think it could be legit (or if you want to double-check), ignore the information in the notice and look up the email address or phone number yourself elsewhere. That way, you know exactly who you're contacting.

7. Be careful not to leave your card

Like chipped credit cards, when you use a debit card with a chip, you leave the card inside the reader for the duration of the transaction. 

"The device clamps the card, and holds the card, and reads the chip," says Henry.

Try to snatch that card back or swipe it, and you could damage the reader, the card both, he says.

But leaving it inside the machine has led to more than a few consumers forgetting their cards, Henry says. "The big thing to remember is to take that card back."

See related: Infographic: What is a chip card? How do I use it?, Magnetic stripe begins its farewell tour, Survey: Slower EMV chip card transactions irk shoppers

Published: December 14, 2015

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