Contactless credit cards: What they are and how they work

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? Are contactless cards safe and secure? And where can you use them? Keep reading to find out. 

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Key takeaways

  • Contactless credit and debit cards let you make purchases by tapping or holding your card over a payment terminal.
  • Using tap to pay can be a more convenient and secure way to make purchases than swiping or inserting your credit card.  
  • Credit or debit cards that have contactless technology feature a symbol of four curved lines that look a bit like the Wi-Fi symbol turned on its side.

What is a contactless credit card?

Contactless cards work a lot like mobile wallets. The transaction is completed by holding or tapping the card on a contactless-enabled card reader. The technology is also known as “tap to pay” or “tap and go.”

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. 

Many of Capital One’s U.S.-issued credit cards and debit cards now feature contactless technology. And if your credit card is attached to a digital wallet like Apple Pay® or Google Pay®, you can also make payments by tapping your smartphone, smartwatch or other connected device.

How can I tell if my credit card is contactless?

To check whether your Capital One card is contactless, just look for the contactless symbol on the front or back of your card. The contactless symbol is four vertical, curved lines that get bigger from left to right—like the Wi-Fi symbol turned on its side.

Image showing where you might find the contactless symbol, on the front or the back of your credit card.

How does tap to pay work?

Contactless cards use radio-frequency identification (RFID) and near-field communication (NFC) technologies. They enable the card to communicate with the card reader when the card is held near the reader during a transaction. 

Contactless cards also typically 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 checkout. 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 from the reader—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 where contactless cards can be used. Thousands of merchants in grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations across the country now support contactless technology. And public transit systems in cities like Chicago, Miami, New York City and Portland let riders pay fares using contactless cards too.

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.

Contactless credit card security

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

According to Visa, contactless payments are one of the most secure ways to pay. 

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

Contactless cards FAQ

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

Contactless payment refers to transactions that use touch-free technology. It can be done with a credit or debit card from a financial institution or through another company offering contactless payment technology, like Apple Pay or Google Pay. 

You can help protect your contactless card just like you would any other debit or credit card. There are many different 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.

You can use your contactless credit card as often as you would any other debit or credit card. There isn’t a limit on how many times you can use a card because it’s contactless. 

You should report your card as lost or stolen as soon as possible. That goes for any card, whether it’s contactless or not. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) 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.

Contactless credit and debit cards in a nutshell

Using contactless credit and debit cards at checkout can speed up your time at the register. Plus, it can be a more secure way to pay. 

Interested in finding more ways to make online shopping 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.

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