Why Won’t My Credit Card Swipe?

By: Kelly Brown

Credit cards are a popular form of payment and play a frequent role in our daily lives. Statistics show that there are more than 292 million credit cards in use in the United States, and we use them for transactions at the grocery store, gas pump, movie theater, and more. You may have seen the Visa commercial where lines are moving right along and then everything comes to a halt when someone pays in cash. You may feel this way when your credit card doesn’t “swipe.” You may want to blame the credit card machine, but more often than not, your card is the culprit. Merchants use credit card processing terminals or a Point of Sale (POS) system to verify if they can accept a charge, i.e. that the account is valid and credit is available. These systems “read” the card and link up to the merchant’s bank. Transactions where a card is swiped typically cost a merchant much less than a hand-keyed transaction, so they are gaining popularity with merchants. Additionally, they speed up the transaction for both the merchant and the customer. Unfortunately, your card may not always go through successfully, and you may be inclined to fault the credit card processing terminal. Most of the time however, your card is to blame. On the back of a credit card there is a magnetic stripe appropriately called a magstripe. It contains miniscule iron-based particles that make up tiny bars, or magnets. Each magnet can be polarized which imprints it with information. There are three “tracks” on the magstripe, and together they make up the magic black strip on the back of your card—when swiped, the information is read and transmitted. There are a few reasons why your card won’t swipe correctly. The first is, the magstripe may just be dirty. A quick wipe with your thumb or your t-shirt may do the trick. If the magstripe is scratched, it may present a challenge. Patience is a virtue: a second or third swipe through the credit card processing terminal may work, or slow down slightly when you run your card through. One method that often works is to wrap the card in something like a plastic bag or paper and run it through. This increases the distance between the magstripe and the reader, which reduces the extreme sensitivity of the credit card machine. This technique may be worth a try if the first pass is unsuccessful. To avoid all of this in the first place, you should always store your card in a protective place. Your card may also have become demagnetized. This can happen if the card is stored next to a magnetic clasp in a wallet for example, or placed on or too close to a security demagnetizer at the register. If your card becomes demagnetized for any reason it will likely need to be replaced, so be aware of and avoid the presence of magnets near your card. Credit card processing terminals benefit both the merchant and customer by providing a quick and easy transaction. These nifty machines aren’t to blame when your card won’t swipe, it’s likely that the magnetic stripe on your card is dirty, scratched, or has been demagnetized. Try one of the techniques above, and to prevent this, be careful where you keep your cards.

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Helen Walker. Veritrans offers affordable and reliable credit card processing and merchant account services.

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