How to Fix a Credit Card That Doesn't Swipe

A merchant terminal may reject a dirty credit card.

Knowing how to fix a credit card that doesn't swipe can help you avoid embarrassing situations. Imagine not being able to use your debit or credit card at a restaurant or in the airport – "Help! The ATM can't read my card!" Sure, you could pay in cash or with a different card, but that's not always an option. Try these quick fixes while you're waiting for a replacement card.

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Tip

If your credit card won't swipe, clean it gently or cover the magnetic stripe with clear tape when paying in stores. Another option is to use a mobile wallet, such as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, and make contactless payments with your smartphone.

Clean Your Credit Card

The average consumer made about 17 credit card payments and 24 debit card payments per month in 2019, reports the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Like other goods, credit and debit cards are subject to wear and tear. Grime buildup, scratches, extreme heat and other factors can affect their lifespan or even cause permanent damage, explains Discover.

A credit card's magnetic stripe can stop working because of dirt buildup, but that's pretty easy to fix. First, try to clean your card with antibacterial wipes, household cleaners or rubbing alcohol, suggests Forbes. If you prefer to use alcohol-based solutions or household cleaners, first apply a few drops on a paper towel or cotton pad – don't spray them directly onto the card. Gently rub your card for 10 to 20 seconds and then let it dry. Liquid hand soap or dish soap will do the trick, too.

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Forbes recommends cleaning your credit card once a day to once a week, depending on how often you use it. As a general rule, avoid scrubbing it too hard or soaking it in corrosive liquids. You may also use adhesive tape to remove dirt and debris, but there's a risk of damaging the strip. Likewise, sponges and abrasive cleaning pads can scratch the magnetic stripe or chip.

Fix the Magnetic Stripe

Magnetic stripe cards are more prone to damage than contactless cards and may stop working due to wear and tear. Keeping them close to your mobile phone or other devices, such as MRI machines, can speed up this process, says Discover. If your card's magnetic stripe is worn out, cover it with clear tape (or a plastic bag) when paying in stores. This technique is said to reduce the signal loss caused by heavy usage or physical damage.

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Unfortunately, clear tape won't help if your debit or credit card is bent. In such cases, you should first try to flatten the card. Place it on a flat surface and then cover it with a towel. Run the iron over it for up to 30 seconds, applying slight pressure to the magnetic stripe. Repeat if necessary – just make sure you use a low-temperature setting.

Another option is to use a hairdryer to heat up and flatten your credit card. Since most cards are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), they become moldable when exposed to high temperatures. Place the card on your desk or table and then heat it with a blow dryer for about 30 seconds. When you're done, try to flatten it out with your hands or place it under a heavy object and leave it there for a couple of days.

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If all else fails, contact your bank to request a new credit card. Meanwhile, you can pay in cash or ask sellers to manually enter your debit or credit card number. Another solution is to use a mobile wallet. Some apps, such as Google Wallet and Apple Pay, allow users to add multiple cards on their smartphones and make contactless payments. These services eliminate the need to swipe your credit card when making a purchase.

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