Our credit cards constantly come in and out of our wallets. They are swiped in machines, battered around, and can easily be damaged. The magnetic strip is made of iron-based particles that organize themselves to encode the consumer’s identifying information. Unfortunately, scratches, heavy smudges, and cuts can make your card unreadable, rendering it useless. Here’s what you should do.

credit card damaged


Clean Your Card

If your card only has minor damage, try to clean it at home. Take a soft cloth, water, and a small amount of liquid soap to gently remove smudges and dirt on the front of the card. You can also use a baby wipe or an eyeglass cloth to clean the magnetic strip. Never try to scratch off stuck on residue from the magnetic strip. A damaged magnetic strip will make your card unreadable to the machine. Another option is to gently wipe the credit card chip with a bit of alcohol and a cotton swab.

Damaged Magnetic Strip

The most common way a credit card strip gets damaged is when it gets too close to a magnet. Magnets can rearrange the iron particles, which are essential for storing and communicating your account information to the merchant for transaction authorization. Purses and wallets with magnetic closures are frequently to blame for damaging a credit card. Consider changing your wallet and being extra cautious where you put your credit card.

Theoretically, putting a credit card next to a smartphone can also cause a strip to demagnetize. It is not about the strength of the magnet that is important, but rather the duration of exposure. Therefore, be wary of refrigerator door magnets that keep the fridge shut. Some stores have small surfaces at the checkout station that deactivates a security tag on an item. If you leave your credit card on the deactivator, there may be a chance of demagnetizing your card. A good rule of thumb is to keep your credit cards over 1 inch away from any magnet.

In the event your magnetic strip has been compromised and you are trying to make a purchase, ask the cashier to manually input your card information. This is different from the swipe terminal facing the customer. Instead, the cashier can first try to swipe your card through her computer terminal or may need to enter your card number and expiration date digit by digit. This should allow your transaction to be processed. Afterward, you can start the procedure of obtaining a new credit card.

Will a Credit Card Still Work After It Gets Wet?

There are a few unforeseen situations where a credit card has been soaked. For example, you accidentally put your credit card through the washing machine, dropped it in a puddle of water, spilled a drink on it, or it got soaked in a rainstorm. Fortunately, credit cards were designed to be water resistant and should not be damaged by water. After all, they are responsible for storing sensitive personal information and give the user access to money.

This is a pretty significant purpose!

As soon as you realize your credit card has been exposed to water, take measures to dry it out. Shake off any excess water and pat it dry with a paper towel. If it has been soaked for an extended period of time, place the credit card in a sealed bag of rice. The rice will absorb the moisture in places that the paper towel could not reach. This rice trick also works for wet cellphones.

What to Do If the Chip or Magnetic Strip is Broken?

Unfortunately, if the credit card that you washed was also accidentally put into the dryer, your card may actually be broken. The heat from the dryer and tumbling motion may warp your card and make it unreadable. Additionally, the credit card chip is vulnerable to scratches from keys, coins, and other sharp objects. You will need to contact the credit card issuer to request a new card.

Replacement Card

When your card is unreadable, contact your card issuer or bank to request a replacement card. The replacement card is usually free and not a big hassle to reissue. Make sure you tell them that you have the actual card in your possession and that it has not been stolen. This should not change or suspend your account. Instead, they should only invalidate your old and damaged card. Unfortunately, it will take time for your new card to arrive and be activated. On the bright side, your card number should be the same and it should not affect any recurrent bills associated with the card. Nonetheless, do your due diligence and confirm this with your card issuer.

Destroy Damaged Card

Properly disposing of your old damaged card is critical, especially because your new replacement card should have the same account number, but may have a different expiration date. You should use a shredder to destroy your card. To be even safer, divide the pieces of the card into different garbage bags to minis the chance of someone being able t piece the card back together. This will minimize your chances for identity theft.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes physical damage to our credit cards is unavoidable. Fortunately, credit card companies make it easy to replace our cards. After all, they lose money if you don’t use it!