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What You Need to Know About EMV Chip-Enabled Debit Cards

What you'll learn: What to know about the chip on your credit card


If you’ve gotten a new debit card recently, you might have noticed something different about it: many debit cards now feature a rectangular metallic chip placed just above the card number on the left-hand side.

Congratulations. You are now an official holder of an EMV chip-enabled debit card—and while it still has the magnetic strip you’re used to, it also has a microchip. Both of these features contain the information a retailer needs to process a transaction, but credit and debit card issuers are transitioning to EMV chip-enabled technology because it’s more secure.

What makes an EMV chip-enabled debit card more secure?

A magnetic strip card contains all the information about your card right in the strip. Because everything’s on the card and read by the retailer to process a transaction, thieves that hack into retailer databases and steal data usually have everything they need to use your card to make transactions.

EMV chip-enabled debit cards work differently. The chip is actually a tiny computer chip and every time you make a transaction, in addition to handing over your account information, it generates a unique, one-use code to verify the transaction. Without that code, you can’t make a transaction, and the code is hard to forge or duplicate.

When you use your debit card at a retailer, you have to insert your card into a reader. It takes a few seconds for the reader to verify your card, but that extra time is a small price to pay for the security these cards offer.

How is an EMV chip-enabled debit card different from a magnetic strip debit card?

While your new EMV debit card processes transactions differently, it works in the same way as your old card. Instead of swiping your card, you insert or dip it into a reader and enter your PIN (Personal Identification Number). Though processing the transaction will take a little longer, your debit card basically works the same way it always has.

What you need to know about your new EMV chip-enabled debit card

As with any new technology, there are a few things you need to know about these new chip debit cards:

They’re easy to use. Though chip debit cards work differently than the magnetic strip cards we’re used to, they’re still simple to use. Most merchants have instructions on the chip reader terminal screen to guide you through the steps if you’re not sure what to do—and the sales clerk will always be happy to help you out!

Insert, don’t swipe! To use your EMV chip-enabled debit card and benefit from the most protection, you insert the end with the chip into the reader. Don’t pull it back out as you would when you swipe with a magnetic strip: your debit card needs to stay in the reader while it generates and verifies that one-use code to process your transaction. It should beep or provide instructions on the chip reader terminal screen to remove your card when it’s finished.

Not every retailer is using EMV chip technology yet. While many shops are already using chip readers, not all of them are. These stores may not have chip readers yet or they may have chip readers that aren’t active yet. Typically, inactive chip readers will be marked, but if you’re having trouble using your chip card, the reader may not be working yet—ask the sales clerk. In this case, you can still swipe your card to use it the traditional way.

You might sign or enter a PIN. Depending on your financial institution and the merchant, your new chip card may require a PIN or a signature to use it. The merchant should prompt you to sign or enter a PIN as needed.

They’re easier to use overseas. Much of the rest of the world has been using this technology for years—which means some retailers may not accept your magnetic strip card when you’re traveling abroad. With a chip card, you’re using the same technology that’s used internationally, saving you a travel headache. However, Europe uses chip cards with PIN more often than with signatures. If your financial institution requires a signature rather than a PIN, you may want to contact them about getting a PIN.

You still want to keep your card safe. Even though EMV chip-enabled cards are more secure than the magnetic strip cards we’re used to, you should still take precautions to keep your card safe. Keep an eye on your debit card statement for fraudulent charges and always keep your card physically secure. If someone steals your wallet, it’s still easy for them to use your card.

Get an EMV chip-enabled card from PenFed

All new credit and debit cards from PenFed come with an EMV chip to help protect you from fraud. If you don’t already have a PenFed credit card, you can apply for one today. From simple cards to rewards cards, we have an option that’s perfect for you!