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Most things have an expiration date, including credit cards. Read on to learn why your credit card won’t last forever.
The Reasons a Credit Cards Has an Expiration Date

Nothing lasts forever, including credit cards. Every credit card issued has an expiration date clearly printed, embossed, or engraved on the card. But ever wonder why credit cards expire? Or what you should do with your card when it reaches its expiration date?

We’ll cover these questions and more. But first, let’s address what the expiration date on your credit card actually means.


What an Expiration Date Means

The expiration date on your credit card is the day your card should become deactivated and no longer usable to make purchases. Typically, it expires on the last day of the month listed on your card. So, if your card’s expiration date reads “03/22,” the last day it should be active is March 31, 2022. If you try to use it to make a purchase on April 1, 2022, it probably won’t work.

It’s important to note that the expiration date applies only to the physical credit card, not to your credit card account. Your account will stay open until you or your credit card issuer closes it. You can close your account anytime, for any reason. Your card issuer can also close your account at any time. But credit card issuers are in business to make money, so they typically won’t close your account unless they have a good reason, including but not limited to:

  • Account inactivity
  • Maxing out your credit card
  • Falling behind on your payments
  • A drop in your credit score
  • Reduced income or a job loss
  • The card issuer is going out of business or discontinuing the card
  • A violation of your credit card agreement


Why Credit Cards Have Expiration Dates

It might seem like it’d be easier to keep using the same card indefinitely, but there are at least two good reasons credit cards have expiration dates.

1.     Wear and Tear: Credit cards can get bent or warped, they can crack, the numbers can fade, the EMV chip or magnetic stripe can become damaged after years of use, to name but a few ways they can take a beating. Credit card issuers put expiration dates on cards so they can hopefully supply you with a new card before the old one completely wears out. Again, credit card issuers are in business to make money, and if you’re not using their card because it no longer functions properly, that’s revenue they’re missing out on. If you’re a card member in good standing, they want you to have a fully functional credit card of theirs available for use.  

2.     Technology: Credit card technology is continually evolving. It has progressed from magnetic stripes to EMV chips and now to contactless technology. Technology updates frequently contain improved security measures—for both card members and merchants—which can help reduce the risk of fraud. Replacing an expired credit card gives card issuers an opportunity to supply you with a card featuring the latest technology…at least the latest technology your credit card issuer currently offers.


How to Get a New Credit Card When the Old One Expires

In general, credit cards are good for about three years. When the expiration date of your card is approaching, the credit card issuer usually automatically sends you a new one. If that doesn’t happen, or your card wears out before its expiration date, you should contact your card issuer immediately and let them know your card has expired or no longer functions properly.

After you receive your new card, before you can use it you’ll need to activate it. Most credit cards can be activated by phone or online—there’s usually a sticker on the front of the card that tells you how to do it. Once the new card is activated, you can begin using it even if the old card hasn’t reached its expiration date yet. But, to be safe, you’ll want to properly dispose of the old card to keep it out of the hands of anyone who might try to use it, or the information on it, to commit fraud.   


How to Properly Dispose of an Expired Credit Card

If you have a plastic card, getting rid of it is pretty easy. You can either cut it up into small pieces and throw it away or shred it. To be extra careful, you may want to dispose of the pieces of your expired card in different loads. A determined dumpster-diver might be able to piece your expired card back together if they have all of the required pieces in one trash bag. While they most likely wouldn’t be able to tape or glue it back together and use the actual card, they may be able to use the information on the reassembled card to make unauthorized purchases.

If you have a metal credit card, you won’t be able to cut it with scissors, and trying to shred it could do more damage to the shredder than the card. If you have a well-stocked tool box, you should be able to cut it up with aviation snips. Or, you may be able to send it back to your credit card issuer for them to dispose of. Some credit card companies will even send you a postage-prepaid envelope with your new credit card that you can use to send back the old one for them to destroy. 


Other Things You May Have to Do When Your Card Expires

Once you’ve received a replacement credit card and it’s activated, be sure to update all of your accounts linked to the card, including accounts you’re auto-paying with that card and online retailers with which you’ve stored your credit card information. Although your new credit card’s account number won’t change, its expiration date and security code will. If you forget to update accounts tied to that account with this new information, online purchases may not go through and automatic payments could be delayed or declined, which isn’t good. Even a single late payment could negatively affect your credit.

Typically, dealing with an expired credit card is just a matter of receiving a new card, activating it, properly disposing of the old card, and updating your new card information with any accounts tied to that card. Your credit card may expire without you realizing it, but the first time you attempt to use it after its expiration date, a declined purchase should make it clear the card is no longer valid. At that point, if you haven’t yet received a new card, you’ll need to reach out to your credit card issuer to let them know you need a replacement card.


About the author:

Jennifer Brozic

Jennifer Brozic began her writing career at seven years old, when she scribed the epic tale of her kite-flying (and skyward-looking) uncle crossing paths with a deep hole in a sandy beach. After earning a degree in journalism, Jen worked in the insurance and financial services industries before earning a master’s degree in communication management. She left the nine-to-five corporate world in 2010 and has been freelance writing ever since. Her areas of expertise include insurance, financial planning & budgeting, and building credit.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor. Readers should consult with their own tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor with regard to their personal situations.