Contactless payment cards

What is a contactless payment card?

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Waiter taking contactless card payment

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Contactless payments, introduced in 2007, have become so popular that now one in three card payments is contactless. There are an estimated 112 million contactless cards issued in the UK.

What is a contactless payment?

A contactless payment allows you to pay for something by waving or tapping your contactless device over a special ‘reader’ unit. You don’t need to enter your pin.

Contactless devices

Aside from contactless credit and debit cards, you can also make payments using smartphones and smart watches. Other contactless devices use the same technology for tasks such as opening garage doors with a keyfob or accessing buildings with a security pass.

Contactless cards have a logo of four bold lines making a wave symbol – if your card doesn’t have this symbol then ask your provider if they can supply you with one.

Contactless payments aren’t just available on bank cards – but other devices too. These include:

  • Stickers
  • Key fobs
  • Watches and wristbands
  • Fitness trackers
  • Mobile phones

How do contactless credit cards work?

Contactless credit cards have a chip inside them that emits radio waves. An antenna is built into the plastic to secure the connection with a contactless reader. This is known as radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

To pay for something with a contactless credit card, you hold the card near a payment terminal (known as an RFID reader) and it picks up the signal, communicates with the card and processes the payment.

The payment terminal will say if the payment was successful or not. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and you’ll need to use your pin instead.

How popular are contactless payments?

The most up-to-date figures from UK Finance for June 2017 state that £4.3 billion was spent on contactless cards in Britain. That’s more than double the amount spent a year ago, which stood at £1.8 billion. 

Contactless credit cards

UK Finance data for June 2017

Are contactless credit cards safe?

Many banks say contactless cards are safer than cash. There are a number of measures in place to strengthen security, such as restricting the number of contactless transactions you can make before being asked to enter your pin, or limiting the value of transactions so it can only be used for low value purchases.

The limit for contactless cards is £30, but there is no limit if you use Apple Pay for purchases on your Apple contactless device or Samsung Pay on your Samsung device. That’s because they require an extra layer of identification and are authenticated by a fingerprint, passcode or iris scan.

However, if your card is lost or stolen, there is the risk that someone could use it to make small purchases. If you lose your card, or if it’s stolen, you should report this immediately.

To boost security, you should also check your bank statement regularly to make sure there is no fraudulent activity. Some banks will even use the contactless symbol to highlight which purchases were made by a contactless device.

If you spot transactions you don’t recognise, report this to your bank immediately. 


What are the benefits of contactless cards?

Contactless payments are quicker, because you don’t have to spend time entering your pin. You can also use a mobile phone or smart watch for contactless payments, which means you don’t have to dig around for your purse or wallet.

Do I have to have a contactless credit card?

Most new cards issued will be contactless, but you can contact your bank and ask that they send you a traditional chip and pin-only card.

Your bank is unlikely to send you a contactless card if you have a poor credit history or if they think you will struggle with these payments.

Moneysupermarket is a credit broker – this means we’ll show you products offered by lenders. We never take a fee from customers for this broking service. Instead we are usually paid a fee by the lenders – though the size of that payment doesn’t affect how we show products to customers.

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