Chip-enabled credit and debit cards have been in the U.S. for a short period. Understandably, the new-to-us technology has taken some getting used to.
Even the word chip causes some confusion.
But the change is, ultimately, for the better – even if we like to joke about what a hassle it is.
What’s the real reason for the chip?
Chip cards, while unfamiliar territory for Americans, are far more secure than traditional magnetic stripe cards. The magnetic stripes on traditional credit and debit cards store unchanging data, and if someone accesses that data, they gain the information necessary to make purchases. That makes traditional cards prime targets for counterfeiters, who convert stolen card data to cash.
With chip-enabled cards, the card chip creates a unique transaction code that cannot be used again. While EMV technology will not prevent data breaches from occurring, it will make it much harder for criminals to successfully profit from what they steal.
Why does it seem to take so long?
Much of the grumbling about chip cards comes from the feeling that it takes longer to carry out a transaction when you have to dip instead of swipe.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it’s a fairly new concept, even if you’ve been using chip cards for a year or longer. It simply takes some getting used to before the act is a matter of muscle memory.
Second, you have to leave your card in during the entire transaction. When an EMV card is dipped, data flows between the card chip and the issuing financial institution to verify the card’s legitimacy and create the unique transaction data. This process isn’t as quick as a magnetic-stripe swipe.
However, in the time that it takes to approve the transaction, select cash back and then enter your PIN or sign – all steps you have to take with mag-stripe cards, too – the information has been transmitted and you’re free to take your card and go.
Additionally, with Visa’s Quick Chip technology, using a chip card takes only 2.5 seconds, and with Mastercard’s M/Chip Fast, the process is even quicker.
What’s up with the loud alarming sound at the end?
The other common joke about chip readers is that when you’re done with the transaction, the reader beeps, buzzes or honks loudly at you. For some, this causes a moment of panic because they think it means their card was declined. Some others simply don’t like the attention the noise draws to them.
However, there’s a reason for the noise, and it’s not just to embarrass you at checkout. Since you often have to leave your card in the reader for a few seconds, the alarm is a way to remind you to remove your card and put it back in your wallet, lest you leave it in the terminal.
The chip card transition has been, perhaps, a little rough, but Americans seem to be taking the transition in stride, helped with a little humor along the way.
See related: 8 FAQs about EMV credit cards, The big chip card switch: Living with EMV