What you need to know about credit card expiration dates

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In a Nutshell

Almost every card has an expiration date. This can help keep your card secure and usable, and it gives the credit card company a chance to send you a new card with the latest technology. But an expiration date on your credit card can sometimes be inconvenient for you.
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Ever wonder why credit cards expire?

It’s not like a credit card is a bunch of bananas that will eventually go bad, so why can’t you keep using the card forever?

Credit card expiration dates give the card issuer a chance to send you a new card with updated tech, and it can help keep your account secure and your card usable. Plus your card’s expiration can provide you with a good chance to review what you use your card for.

What is a credit card expiration date?

A credit card expiration date tells you when the card is no longer valid. After your card expires, you shouldn’t be able to use it, because the issuers should deactivate the credit card when it reaches the expiration date.

Card expiration dates generally come in a two-number format, with the first number representing the month and the second showing the year. For example, 09/26 would be September of 2026. Generally, cards expire on the final day of the month a few years after being issued, so this won’t be an everyday concern (but contact your issuer to confirm the specifics).

What happens when a card expires?

If you’re worried about your credit card expiring, you don’t have to be. Your card issuer is probably handling the process in the background.

Shortly before your card’s expiration date, the issuer should automatically send you a new card in the mail. This card will usually come in a plain envelope to help protect against theft. Make sure you’re on the lookout so that you don’t accidentally throw away your new card!

When you receive the new card, you’ll typically be free to activate it and start using it right away — you don’t usually have to wait for the old card to expire.

If you’re only getting a replacement card and aren’t otherwise making changes to your account you shouldn’t need to worry about a hard inquiry.

What should I do when my card expires?

Your credit card’s expiration may be a good opportunity to think about all the ways you use your card.

Go over your card statements to look at recurring charges. If you still want to use a service that’s automatically charged to your card, you’ll need to update the payment info with each vendor individually. Since you’re already evaluating your recurring payments, it’s also a good time to cancel any services you no longer use.

As for your old card, you should take care to destroy it to help protect against someone using it to commit financial fraud. Shredding or cutting up the card should be sufficient. If you want to be extra safe, bag the pieces of the card in separate trash bags.

Why do credit cards expire?

So why do banks go through the trouble of having their cards expire and reissuing them?

One reason is that it gives banks a chance to upgrade their cards’ technology. Card-security technology is always changing, and card expiration dates help issuers keep all their cards up to date with similar technology. For example, think about the rollout of EMV chip cards.

Another reason that cards expire is that they simply degrade over time and become less reliable. Replacing them regularly helps ensure that yours is in working condition.

Bottom line

Credit cards generally expire a few years after they’re issued, but that doesn’t mean that the account will close. Safely dispose of your old card after activating your new one, and take the time to update recurring payment information so that you can keep using your card without missing a step.

About the author: TJ Porter is a Boston-based freelance writer who specializes in bank accounts, credit, and credit cards. He’s written for Bankrate, CardCruncher, DollarSprout and My Bank Tracker, among others. In his spare time, TJ e… Read more.