Your credit card’s expiration date is a security feature, and it helps your card issuer manage its portfolio. It can also affect your recurring payments, so it’s important to know when your card expires and how to update it.
Nothing lasts forever — and that includes credit cards. If your credit card expiration date is looming, there’s no need to worry. This is a routine maintenance procedure that credit card issuers have in place to help ensure your credit card works as intended and to help avoid security issues.
Keep reading for more insight into what a credit card expiration date is, why credit cards expire and what to do after the expiration date passes.
What does a credit card expiration date mean?
Once a credit card expiration date arrives, this means you can no longer use the card to make purchases — essentially, it becomes invalid.
The expiration date for a credit card is listed as a month and year, so your card is valid through the last day of that month, a spokeswoman for Discover said. Your credit card issuer should send you a new card well in advance of the expiration date.
How often do credit cards expire?
While all credit card issuers have different timelines in place (usually every three to five years), you can find out when your card will expire by simply looking at it.
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 necessary 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 these cards, you’ll also find the expiration date on the back of the card, below your account number.
Why do credit cards expire?
There are two main reasons that credit cards expire — expected wear and tear and safety and security measures.
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, senior 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 embedded computer chips, 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.
Note that retail credit cards — 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 your card and the 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 manage its credit card portfolio, Rossman says. About 20 percent to 30 percent of credit cards that are issued are never activated.
Having an expiration date on a card serves as a “mechanism for reevaluating a customer’s standing and potentially clearing dormant cards off the books,” Rossman says.
What to do with your credit card when it expires?
Once your credit card expires, you’ll need to update any automatic payments you have with the new card information and destroy your expired credit card. You can use scissors or a shredder, as long as it’s designed to destroy thicker items like credit cards (read your manual first).
All credit cards come with expiration dates, but you shouldn’t experience much disruption after your card expires. Once your new card arrives, be sure to activate it via your computer or by calling the number listed on the sticker. Sign your card and be sure to destroy your old one. Then, you’re back to business as usual.