Contactless Credit & Debit Cards and How They Work

Breaking down the latest in secure payment technology

There are so many ways to pay with your credit and debit cards these days. And contactless cards are one of the latest ways to pay at the register. 

So what is a contactless card, anyway? Are contactless cards safe and secure? And where can you use them? Keep reading for the answers to those questions and more. 

What Is a Contactless Card?

Contactless cards work a lot like mobile wallets. The transaction is completed by simply holding or tapping the card on a contactless-enabled card reader. 

It’s up to 10 times faster than swiping, inserting or using cash. Plus, it keeps your info secure and your hands off the card reader. 

Contactless credit and debit cards are nothing new in places like Europe, Australia and Canada. And over the past few years, the U.S. has also embraced the technology. 

In fact, many of Capital One’s U.S.-issued credit cards and debit cards now feature this technology

Before you step up to the register, learn more about how to tell whether your card is contactless and the benefits of going contactless. 

How to Tell Whether Your Card Is Contactless

To check whether your Capital One card is contactless, just look for the contactless symbol on the back of your card. The contactless symbol is four curved lines that get bigger from left to right. You might notice that it looks similar to the Wi-Fi symbol.

A person holding a Capital One Mastercard showing the contactless symbol on the back.

How Do Contactless Credit and Debit Cards Work?

Contactless cards use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. This allows the card to communicate with the card reader when the card is held near the reader during a transaction. 

Contactless cards also usually come with an EMV chip and the usual credit or debit card number, expiration date, security code and magnetic stripe. This gives cardholders a variety of options at the register. So if a store doesn’t have contactless readers, you can still swipe your card or use the chip reader. 

When you hold your contactless card to the contactless reader, it securely authenticates your card information. Then the merchant’s point-of-sale system sends the transaction to the card issuer, like Capital One. The issuer then analyzes the transaction before approving it.

That might seem like a lot of steps. But the tap-and-go process usually takes less than a second, which is quicker than inserting or dipping a chip card—and way faster than using cash.

How to Use a Contactless Credit or Debit Card

Whether you’re using Visa® or Mastercard®, contactless payments work the same way. Here’s how to use a contactless credit card:

  1. Look for the contactless symbol on the card reader. The four curved lines that appear on your card should also appear on contactless-enabled card readers. 
  2. When prompted, hold the card within one to two inches of the contactless symbol.
  3. If your purchase is approved, you’ll receive confirmation—typically a beep, green light or check mark.

Once you know how to use contactless credit and debit cards, it takes just a few seconds to complete the payment process.

Where Can I Use My Contactless Credit or Debit Card?

There are so many places you can use your contactless card. From grocery stores and fast-food restaurants to convenience stores and gas stations, thousands of merchants across the country now support contactless technology.

Check to see which merchants support contactless payments in your area with Mastercard’s handy contactless locator, and try tapping today to check out faster and more securely than ever.

And public transit in cities like Chicago, Miami, New York City and Portland lets riders pay fares using contactless cards too. 

Contactless Card Security

Now you know more about how contactless cards work. But how safe are contactless cards? 

Contactless cards are just as secure as chip cards at a chip-enabled register. And they’re even more secure than magnetic stripe payments. 

Each contactless transaction creates a unique, one-time code or password. This helps reduce security risks since the code can’t be used again—and it can be read only by the card-processing network. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Contactless Cards 

Still have questions about how contactless cards work? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions: 

  • How do I protect my contactless credit card? You can help protect your contactless card just like you would any other debit or credit card. There are many different kinds of credit card security features that can help you keep your money safer. And you can learn more about how to prevent identity theft to help keep all your information safer too. 
  • How many times can you use a contactless card in a day? You can use your contactless credit card as often as you would any other debit or credit card. There isn’t a limit for how many times you can use a card because it’s contactless. 
  • What happens if you lose your contactless card and someone uses it? You should report your card as lost as soon as possible. That goes for any card, no matter whether it’s contactless or not. The Fair Credit Billing Act says that your liability for fraudulent credit card charges tops out at $50. But that’s only if the fraudulent charges are investigated and verified. And for that to happen, you have to report them first.
  • Is there a charge for using contactless cards? No, there’s no additional charge for using a contactless card instead of a magstripe or chip card. 

Interested in finding ways to make online shopping more convenient and secure? Learn how things like virtual card numbers and Eno, your Capital One assistant, let you shop online without giving merchants your actual card number.

Learn more about Capital One’s response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers. For information about COVID-19, head over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

The EMVCo Contactless Symbol and Contactless Indicator, consisting of four graduating arcs, are trademarks owned by and used with permission of EMVCo, LLC.

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