Three reasons for your card's expiry date

By Helen Fowler

If you've ever made an online or phone payment, you know that you'll need to know your credit card number, perhaps the security code on the back and, of course, the expiry date. As you rattle off the numbers, you might have wondered: Why is that date so vital? Why do cards have to expire in the first place? Surely, it would be easier on you and cheaper for the provider to have one card that never expires. However, that date isn't just there to give you one more number to memorize. Here are a few reasons your card is only good for a few years at a time:

1. To protect against fraud
Expiry dates help prove you're using a legitimate card, especially for web and phone sales, when neither you nor the card are actually present while making a purchase. If cards simply had one number on them, a fraudster might randomly generate valid card numbers. However, the chances of a criminal generating a valid credit card number as well as providing the correct expiry date for that card are much smaller.


"This is a piece of authentication data designed to ensure that ... the card being used [online or over the phone] is genuine," Richard Koch,
head of policy for the UK Cards Association, wrote in an email.

2. To keep your card in good condition
Cards suffer from wear and tear and need replacing every few years or so. Anyone who has ever owned a plastic card knows that the laminate -- the plastic film on cards -- has a tendency to start peeling after a while. An expiry date will automatically generate a shiny new card to replace the scuffed plastic in your wallet.

Cards are designed to be resilient, but the foil tipping on a card (the silver embossing used for personal details) tends to fade over time. The three-
digit security code on the reverse of cards and the signature strip are particularly prone to erosion. In cards with a security chip, the chip can be damaged; the antennae in contactless cards will stop working if the card is bent.  

Generally, issuers aim to replace cards "sufficiently frequently that they do not deteriorate in a way which makes it difficult to use the card," Koch said. Issuers usually replace cards every three years, although plastic can last as long as five years or as few as two. Of course, if your card is too damaged to work and your expiry date is not yet up, issuers will replace it early.

3. A chance to check up on you
It's not a given that you will get a replacement card when your old one breathes its last.

When it's time to send you a new card, the issuer will always consider your circumstances to determine whether to send you a new card, explained Koch. Lack of use, frequent late payments or frequently going over your limit are a few things that may cause an issuer to deny you a new card. An issuer may also use the opportunity to check with credit reference agencies to see what borrowing you've racked up elsewhere.


See related: Old-style scams increasingly used by fraudsters, Card declined? Don't panic -- it may be an easy fix

Published: 28 April 2014