If you try to swipe your card multiple times at a credit card machine and it does not work, you might be dealing with a broken card reader.
If not, your card’s magnetic strip might be dirty or have physical damage. This is probably the most common cause for your card not working.
You might also have a demagnetized card. Yes, it’s possible that the sensitive magnetic strip can be demagnetized by being in direct contact with a strong magnet or by being in close proximity to a strong magnetic field such as an MRI machine. Hotel key cards and other RFID keys could also demagnetize a card if in direct contact for long enough. Some people have even reported that even an old refrigerator magnet could compromise the card’s magnetic field if it gets in close enough contact. That is a lot more unlikely as the strip on the back of the card is designed to handle at least low levels of magnetic exposure.
Regardless, why take the risk?
Be sure to take care of your credit card. Your card can even be damaged by extreme heat such as sitting out in a hot vehicle.The card’s strip is made up of tiny magnetic particles of iron oxide. This is definitely the most sensitive part of the card so you should go easy on it. You don’t want the card to be loose in a bag or anywhere the strip could come in contact with anything that has metal parts with sharp edges that could damage the card.
This can happen to a debit card, a credit card or even an ATM card. Really all cards with a magnetic stripe such as gift cards too.
Simple life hack
If your card’s mag stripe does not work and you need it now you have a few immediate options:
- Use another payment method such as another credit card or cash
- Ask if the merchant can enter your card number manually like a phone order rather than swiping the card
- If your card is one that has an emv chip you can insert it into the chip reader rather than swipe it. The chip is the newer technology and a more secure way to pay (preferred over the mag stripe swipe for security reasons). In other words, if you have a chip, you actually have two different ways to pay at the register (chip or swipe).
- Put a piece of clear tape (ie: scotch tape) on the mag stripe or put the card in a plastic bag and try to swipe the card again. This technique sometimes works by cutting down on the interference between the card and the reader
- Clean the stripe with an antibacterial wipe or use a cotton swab or paper towel and clean the mag strip with rubbing alcohol
Some additional steps you can take to make sure you prevent a card problem in the future include the following:
Take care of an old card now
If your old credit card is looking beat up already, don’t wait for the card’s strip to fail. You don’t have to wait until the card approaches the expiration date to get a new card. Just call up the credit card company (phone number is on the back of the card), give them your account number, and they will send you a new credit card. They want your business and will usually be happy to do so!
Have at least one backup card
As a general rule, always be sure to have at least two credit cards from different banks. You never know when a card will not work and you don’t want to be stuck with just one way to pay.
For example, your card could be declined because you unknowingly have hit your credit limit. Or, your card could be declined because your financial institution believes your card could be compromised (due to potential fraud) and they freeze your card. This unexpected freeze has happened to me more than once!
It’s very frustrating when you are at a restaurant or you have a pile of groceries at the checkout only to find out your card is declined. Having a backup card with another card issuer is huge in these situations!
If you have a backup card with another bank you can pay for your product or service which gives you time to call the credit card company and clear up the issue.
Charge your card using your phone
My favorite option is to sync your credit cards to your cell phone with Apply Pay or Google pay and you will be able to pay with your phone rather than a physical card. This method is considered to be very secure and is much faster at the checkout than waiting for the approval after a swipe or inserting your chip. More and more retailers are now accepting this method (just look for the sideways wifi symbol at the register). It’s fast and easy!
All the newer cards have emv chips. That is the preferred method over the stripe as the chip has better security.
Many cards have the no touch RFID which means you don’t swipe or insert the card. You just hold it close to the credit card terminal and it automatically picks up the card information.
Be sure to enable text notification on your cell phone by going into your credit card account online and turning on text notifications. Then you will always know when a charge occurs on your account. When you are at a retailer you will be notified that the charge has occurred which is a good verification for you that the card worked.
In the order of security preference, you should look to pay in the following order:
- Use your phone app such as Apple Pay or Google Pay that is synced to your card. That is likely the most secure way to pay
- Use the RFID no touch on your card
- Use the chip reader on your card
- Swipe the credit card strip on the card
A word about Credit Cards
I would be remiss if I didn’t add some information about spending and credit cards.
Credit cards are like playing with fire. If under control it provides great benefits. You can rack up cash back and rewards to actually cut your expenses. Being responsible with credit cards can improve your credit score too. A high credit score will qualify you for the lowest loan financing rates when you need to borrow money. It may also lower your insurance rates, as many insurance companies use your credit score for underwriting.
It’s a convenient payment option that also provides very strong consumer protections. You are not liable for fraudulent charges if you report them to your credit card issuer as soon as you are aware of them. You can also have any charges reversed if you did not receive the product or service.
Not so with cash or a debit card! You’ll be battling to get your money back using those payment options.
As long as you only charge what you can pay in full when the credit card bill arrives, you are in good shape.
If not under control, however, credit cards can be devastating to your finances! If you slip up and charge more than you can pay back, the compounded interest will eat you up. Once the interest compounding gets going, it is extremely difficult to get caught back up.
So be careful with credit cards!
Summary – What can you do to fix a demagnetized credit card?
- If your card’s magnetic strip does not work, you have some immediate options to temporarily repair it or try another payment option
- Having multiple payment options will reduce the risk going forward
- Syncing your credit card to your phone would eliminate any concerns with a damaged credit card and provide the most secure payment method
- Be careful with credit cards, they are like playing with fire if not handled correctly
Identity Theft and Other Account Risks