Credit Card Chip Failure – What To Do?

  • Post category:Credit

Disclosure: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

In recent years, you may have noticed more and more of your debit and credit cards being replaced with a card that also has a chip in it. The chips offer more protection against credit card fraud, but what should you do if yours stops working? Well, we've researched the topic in-depth and have an answer for you!

If your credit card chip has failed, you can:

  • try cleaning the chip
  • swipe your card instead
  • ask the cashier if they can manually input your card information
  • contact the bank and request a new card

As you can see, you do have a few options if your credit card chip stops working. Now, keep reading as we elaborate on each one and discuss how you can clean a dirty credit card chip and hopefully get it working. We will also answer some other questions you might have about your chip card, including what might cause it to malfunction.

Detailed photo of numbers on a credit card number and chip, Credit Card Chip Failure - What To Do?

What is a credit card chip?

To fully understand why the chip in your credit card might fail and what you can do to fix it, it might help first to understand what the chip is and what it does. You might be surprised to find out that chip credit cards were first introduced in Europe, Asia, and Canada in 1996. They were not widely introduced to the US until 2015, making them relatively new technology for this country.

Different credit cards stacked on top of each other with chains and a lock on top

When they were first introduced in the US, you may recall, it was a frustrating experience for many. The machines were slow to read the chip and the whole process seemed more trouble than it was worth. Furthermore, if your chip failed, this just added to the frustration. So now, you're probably wishing you could revert to using the stripe, but there's a reason the chips were put in place.

So why were they introduced?

They were created to try to crack down on credit card fraud. Copying information from a chip is harder to do than copying information from the magnetic strip that was previously used. Before, the information could be copied from your card using a skimmer, and you may not have even realized it. The chips still have the same information as the magnetic strips, but it is encrypted, making it much harder to decode.

Because of the readily available chip technology, the liability of fraud shifted from the credit card issuer to the store owner if the store owner decided not to upgrade their readers to allow for chip cards. Either way, if for some reason your details are stolen, you should be covered by either the store owner or the issuer of the credit card. 

What Causes A Chip Malfunction?

Cashier inserting a credit card on the machine

If you insert your chip card and receive a "chip malfunction" message or "chip card read error" or something else along those lines, it means the device is unable to get the necessary information from your chip. There are only really two reasons this will occur. First, your chip is dirty, or second, it is damaged.

The chip in the card can become damaged from being scratched or bent. It is important to keep your card secured in a wallet or other place where it won't be susceptible to scratches from other items in your bag or pockets. Try not to leave it loose in your bag, purse, or pocket where it can move around and come into contact with keys or coins. 

How do you clean a chipped credit card?

It's not unlikely that your chipped credit card is just dirty. After all, for most of us, the credit card is traveling with us most of the time and might be exposed to all sorts of dirt and debris. So how can you clean it? Fortunately, the process is pretty simple.

You will need a cotton swab and some alcohol. For the alcohol, the higher the concentration, the better. Clean the chip by pouring some alcohol on the cotton swab and rubbing it over the chip in a circular motion. Another option is to use a razor blade to gently scrape away at the contacts on the chip. You can see how this works in this YouTube tutorial:

In a Pinch

If you need to clean your card quickly because you're in line at the grocery store, you can grab a slightly abrasive material and try wiping your chip. Paper from a grocery bag, a disinfectant wipe, or even a dollar bill can work.

Do magnets ruin credit card chips?

An up close photo of a credit card chip

Even before chip cards were introduced, cards still faced problems working sometimes. A common problem with non-chip cards was the magnetic strip becoming demagnetized. A card can become demagnetized by coming into contact with another magnet. This can occur with any kind of magnet, from refrigerator magnets to magnetic clasps on a bag. So can this happen with your chip card?

Fortunately, this is not a problem you will run into with your chip cards. Unlike the strip, the chip cannot become demagnetized. Magnets will not harm your chip card at all. However, as we mentioned earlier, they can become damaged from scratches and exposure to water for an extended amount of time.

Can I still use my card if the chip is broken?

If you've tried cleaning your chip card and it still won't work, the chip may be unfixable. While it might delay you at the register, you should still be able to use it, at least temporarily. How you can use it depends on the credit card reader.

Swipe The Card Instead

Some card readers will require you to insert the chip multiple times until it will default to allow you to swipe your card instead. It will likely say "Insert Chip Into Reader" three times before telling you to swipe the card instead. Once it allows you to swipe, it should proceed as usual. You can see why this procedure might become tedious after a while, so it's good to get a replacement as soon as possible.

Manually Input The Card Details

Another option is to ask the cashier if the card information can be input manually. This means typing in the card number, expiration date, and CVV code just like you were making a payment online. The card reader will allow you to do this yourself in some cases. The cashier will have to do it on their computer in other cases. Furthermore, it is important to remember that some stores do not allow for manual input.

Requesting A New Card

You may be hesitant to request a new card from your bank for fear of having to change your card number etc., or maybe it just seems like too much work. Most banks make the process of replacing a chip card very easy. Some allow you to do it straight from their banking app. In addition, when you request a new card, it may ask you the reason.

If you have lost the card, the missing card will be replaced with a whole new card, including a new card number, expiration, and CVV code. If you state the chip in the card is damaged and not working, you can often keep your card number, and they will issue the same card information with a new chip.

This won't be the case for every bank, and you should reach out to your bank for clarification, but this is a common practice. 

How long does a credit card chip last?

A blue credit card with numbers and the chip photographed in detail

As long as you take care of your credit card, your chip should last the duration of the card's active status. That is until your cards expire. You may have noticed that the expiration date on your chip cards is typically longer than those of swipe cards. That's because creditors expect the chip cards to last longer.

Chips do not face as aggressive wear and tear as the magnetic stripe does. Just think about how fast you had to swipe your card when making a purchase. The more gentle use prolongs the chip's life. 

Final Thoughts

Detailed photo of numbers on a credit card number and chip

A chip card failing can be frustrating, but hopefully, we've given you enough information that you can at least try to get it working again. Try to remember that the chip was created to benefit you and protect you from possible fraud attempts despite it being frustrating. You can still use your credit card. In the meantime, it just might cause a slight delay in the checkout line at the store. Good luck!

For more reading on the topic of credit cards, check out some of our other blog posts below:

Should You Sign Back of Credit Card

What is a credit card cash advance?