Signatures still required on payment slips? It depends
Some cheer the end of scrawls and puppy prints as verification
Writes trendy stories about credit cards.
With much fanfare, credit card networks American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa earlier this year ditched the requirement that customers sign in-store receipts when making credit card purchases.
Amid the hype, The New York Times proclaimed that credit card signatures were about to become “extinct” in the U.S.
Yet for all the hubbub surrounding the dropping of the decades-old requirement a few months ago, signatures on credit card payment slips aren’t extinct or even endangered, but still alive and well.
Signature? How about a paw print?
For Round Top, Texas, shop owner Cynthia Sutton, little has changed from the pre-requirement to the post-requirement era. She says she still gives customers at her two shops (The Silver Barn and Nutmeg’s) the option to sign or not sign their credit card receipts.
“I do notice my older customers feel the need to sign, while younger ones will just draw a line, if they do anything at all,” says Sutton. A customer once relied on his dog’s paw to sign a receipt, she notes.
Just as with Sutton’s stores, the signature situation at retail establishments and restaurants is mostly status quo.
Impact of ‘drop the signature’ is unclear now
Craig Shearman, vice president of government affairs and public relations at the National Retail Federation, says the trade group has no hard numbers on members’ adoption of the no-signature stance. A payment survey the group is conducting will offer a better view of what’s changed in recent months.
Based on anecdotal evidence, though, he says a rising number of retailers no longer require a signature on payment slips. And even before the shift, some retailers already had stopped asking for signatures on purchases under certain dollar amounts (typically $25 or $50).
If anything, Shearman says, dumping the signature requirement has served only to (presumably) reduce wait times at checkout lines.
Different restaurants, different signature rules
As for restaurants across the country, the signature environment depends largely on the type of service that’s offered, according to Laura Knapp Chadwick, director of commerce and entrepreneurship at the National Restaurant Association.
Before the signature shakeup, customers at fast-food joints and other quick-service restaurants typically hadn’t asked for credit card signatures because their average bill ranges from $8 to $15, Chadwick says.
Since that sum falls below the typical $25 or $50 no-signature threshold that already had been in place, credit card customers at these establishments aren’t seeing any difference.
Chadwick says it’s a “different story” at full-service restaurants, where the average bill is much higher.
Because these restaurants must track tip amounts, they’re expected to keep providing paper receipts and asking for signatures on credit card transactions, she says.
That’s especially true for sit-down eateries run by entrepreneurs, as it would be “quite a hurdle” to alter a signature process “that’s very much baked into the restaurant experience,” Chadwick says.
One key advantage of that baked-in process: It offers a paper trail in case a customer disputes a tip amount.
See related: Are squiggly finger signatures really binding?
Signature or scrawl: ‘Penmanship went out the door’
Regardless of whether retailers and restaurants seek signatures from credit card customers, these and other businesses are generally glad to see the requirement go by the wayside.
For one thing, many establishments already had fallen out of the habit of comparing the signature on a credit card receipt to the signature on a credit card or ID.
“We’ve said for years that signatures were not an adequate means of proving that person with the card in their hand was really the legitimate cardholder. Obviously, just about any illegible scrawl will do,” says Shearman.
“Penmanship went out the door probably when the first computers came along,” he adds.
“The signature that somebody scrawls when they’re paying for something in a store is very different than what they might sign on the back of the credit card when they get it, if they sign it at all, and it’s very different from the signature they might put on the mortgage for their home or even a car loan.”
Better ways to verify your identity
For retailers and restaurants, the handwriting is on the wall: It’s time for more modern methods of verifying the identity of a credit card customer.
Chadwick says the restaurant group foresees stepped-up use of technology enabling customers to pay their tabs on mobile devices.
One example: Restaurant reservation platform OpenTable lets a diner view and pay a check through its mobile app. No more waiting for a server to bring the bill.
More restaurants also are embracing technology that allows a customer to order and pay at the table. One concern that Chadwick expresses about this technology is the need to buy, secure and maintain the equipment that supports it.
“It seems like a lot of headache, especially when consumers of today – and most certainly tomorrow – will be walking around with supercomputers in their pockets,” she says.
See related: Why wasn’t I asked to sign for my credit purchase?
A push for chip and PIN
Meanwhile, Shearman’s retail organization would like to see the credit card industry ramp up the use of PINs for credit card transactions, particularly since many chip-enabled EMV machines installed in recent years are capable of accepting PINs.
In 2017, 41 percent of in-person credit card transactions in the U.S. involved EMV, compared with more than 90 percent in Europe, according to the EMVco payment consortium.
“We’re not saying that PINs are necessarily the ultimate technology,” he says, “but it’s a proven technology that’s been out there for 10 years or more in other countries around the world, and there’s no reason that it couldn’t be implemented here in the U.S. as well.”
Shearman says PINs would fortify the chip technology already present on credit cards: “A chip card without a PIN is like locking the front door but leaving the back door wide open.”
If PIN capabilities are broadly rolled out, retailers should be given the chance to accept or reject them, just as they have been with credit card signatures, Shearman says.
“If PIN were enabled, we would want that to be the retailer’s choice,” he says. “If they think it's an improvement in security that they want to take advantage of, they should be able to. If they have reasons to think that they’re happy without it or without signatures, that should be their choice.”
For now, though, you may or may not have to sign your credit card payment slip at retailers, restaurants and other merchants. For all the hoopla about the end of the signature, it’s been much ado about not much for consumers.
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