What Happens When My Credit Card Expires?

Jaron Pak
A woman cutting her expired credit card in half.

Whether you’re putting your credit card info into an online shopping cart, orally reciting the number over the phone to make a purchase, or pulling it out at the grocery store to insert it into the chip reader, there are plenty of times that you’re going to be asked when your card expires. Often this is months and even years into the future, but sooner or later that expiration date rolls around — and what happens then?

Here are some of the various reasons that credit cards expire, as well as what actions you should take when they do so.

Table of Contents

Reasons for Credit Card Expiration Dates

There are several different reasons that credit cards must expire on a regular basis. Here are some of the most common concerns that lead credit card companies to slap a date on each piece of plastic that they send you:

Update Technology

Technology is always evolving, including the way that our credit cards function. Between the strips and the chips, not to mention the millions of units around the world reading cards and processing payments on a daily basis, there are plenty of things that can go wrong with credit card tech.

Replacing a card on a regular basis ensures that it doesn’t fall behind the latest credit card technology.

Provide Security

Fraud protection is a particularly poignant matter when it comes to a piece of plastic that represents thousands of dollars in purchasing power. Expiration dates provide another factor on a card that allows retailers to add extra security to each purchase and prevent things like fraud and identity theft from taking place via your plastic.

Re-Engage With Consumers

One of the more subtle benefits of an expiration date (for a credit card company, at least) is the fact that it provides an excuse for them to re-engage with you, their customer, every few years. The need for a new card can be an opportunity for the company to introduce you to a new logo, card style, or even a slogan or catchphrase on the card itself. This interaction can also allow them to re-evaluate the terms of your agreement and your creditworthiness.

Keep up With Wear and Tear

Finally, perhaps the most obvious reason for replacing a card every few years is the simple fact that it helps to keep up with wear and tear. Any item that is pulled in and out of a wallet or a purse on a daily basis is going to wear down over time. Strips can be scratched, chips malfunction, and the card itself can split, chip, or snap.

While you can always replace a card that breaks prematurely, the expiration date provides a built-in safety net that ensures you don’t have to wait until your card breaks to replace it.

When Do Credit Cards Expire?

A credit card expiration date refers to the expiration of the physical card itself, not the account that it’s attached to. The expiration date is typically set for roughly three years after the card is issued, although this number is certainly not set in stone.

As far as when a card actually expires, the formal expiration takes place on the last day of the month that is printed on the card.

You can find the expiration date on your card by looking for a two-digit code on the front of your card, although some companies will locate this on the back. This code is most often formatted as “month/year,” such as 05/23 for an expiration date of May of 2023, although again, this isn’t a universal format.

How To Renew Your Credit Card: Online or By Phone

When the big day of your card’s expiration approaches, your credit card company will likely preemptively send a new card by mail. At times they’ll even send an initial note informing you of the impending replacement cards or asking for an official confirmation that you want to renew the card.

When the new card arrives, it’ll come in a plain envelope in order to deter credit card theft, so be careful about tossing junk mail out when you’re waiting for a new card.

Once you have the new card, you’ll need to activate it by either calling the company’s activation phone number or heading online. Before you do that, though, make sure that the card number and the terms and conditions for your new and old cards haven’t changed.

Typically the information for how to activate your card will be included on a removable sticker right on the card itself. Once you’ve activated your new card, make sure to cut up or shred your old card.

The Bottom Line

While the thought of something expiring may invoke a sense of urgency and concern, when it comes to credit cards, there’s nothing to worry about. The expiration process is a normal activity with several benefits for both the credit card company and yourself.

As a final reminder, just because your card has expired and been renewed doesn’t mean your card number, credit card account, or past purchases have changed. You will still need to pay your bills on time and in full, although you will now have a shiny new card with which to make future purchases.

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