What’s a credit card PIN and how do I get one?

credit-card-pinImage: credit-card-pin

In a Nutshell

A credit card PIN may be required in the U.S. to get a cash advance at an ATM. But you may also be required to use a PIN to make certain purchases in other countries. Getting a PIN shouldn’t be difficult if your card offers it, but not all cards allow you to use the same PIN for every situation.
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You’ve probably used a PIN for a debit card, but did you know credit cards can have PINs, too?

A credit card PIN, or personal identification number, is typically a four-digit code you use to verify that you’re the owner of a credit card. Like a signature, it’s used to verify your identity and helps protect you against fraud. In the U.S., you may be required to use this code for a cash advance at an ATM.

But credit card standards can be different in other countries. If you’re traveling abroad, you may need to use a credit card PIN to complete certain transactions, like those at unmanned kiosks in train stations.

How do you know if you already have a credit card PIN? And if you don’t, how exactly do you get one? Here’s what you need to know.

What is a credit card PIN?

A credit card PIN is a four-digit code assigned to or chosen by you after opening a credit card. It’s sometimes used as an extra layer of security, on top of your signature and card’s EMV chip.

But you usually don’t need your PIN when you pay with a credit card in the U.S. Instead, you simply insert or slide your credit card through the reader and sign for the purchase. And sometimes, you don’t even have to sign.

When you might need a credit card PIN

You may need a credit card PIN for two types of transactions: getting cash advances and making purchases in some foreign countries.

Cash advances

Credit card PINs may be required if you want to take out cash advances at ATMs. Entering your PIN helps verify that you’re the card owner. And if you don’t have a credit card PIN when it’s required or can’t remember it, you can’t complete the cash advance.

Purchases in foreign countries

There’s a chance you’ll need a credit card PIN when you’re making credit card purchases abroad. In Europe, default credit card payments can require inserting your card’s chip and entering your credit card PIN to verify your identity. While you should be able to opt out of entering your PIN to sign for your purchase instead, that may not be possible in certain situations.

For example, if you don’t have a credit card PIN, you might have trouble at unmanned kiosks, like those found at train stations in Europe. These kiosks sometimes let you skip entering a PIN if you’re using a Mastercard or Visa card by pressing an option like “Enter” or “Cancel,” but that’s not always the case. If you can’t bypass PIN entry and don’t have a PIN, you may not be able to complete the purchase without help from an attendant — and that’s not always an option.

How to get a credit card PIN

If you don’t have a credit card PIN, it may be because you declined setting it up when you opened your credit card account. But depending on your card issuer, you may be able to get one.

Finding or requesting a credit card PIN will depend on your credit card issuer. But here are a few ways you might be able to find or create your PIN.

Mail from your issuer: Your credit card PIN may have been sent along with your new credit card paperwork. But PINs are typically sent separately from credit cards for security purposes, so they probably won’t be in the same envelope.

Your online account: If you can’t find the PIN paperwork, the next place to look is your online account. Search the card issuer’s online banking website or app for information about your credit card PIN.

Contact your issuer: You can also call your credit card company to ask about your PIN. While it probably won’t tell you your PIN over the phone, you may be able to request a new one. PINs can be mailed to your home address, but you may be able to set one up over the phone or via text or email if you haven’t had one before.

What if my credit card company doesn’t allow chip-and-PIN purchases?

Unfortunately, not all credit card issuers allow the same PIN for all transactions. For example, Chase doesn’t allow you to use your cash advance PIN to make purchases — so you’d need a separate PIN for purchases.

If you think you’ll need to make a chip-and-PIN purchase, especially overseas, first check your card issuer’s current policy. You don’t want to find out it doesn’t allow chip-and-PIN purchases — or that you don’t have the correct PIN — after you go abroad.

Bottom line

If you don’t need to make cash advance transactions at ATMs and you don’t plan to travel overseas, having a credit card PIN may not provide much value for you. While a handful of credit card issuers offer chip-and-PIN transactions in the U.S., they’re far from common.

If offered by your issuer, it might not hurt to request a credit card PIN, though. That way, if you find yourself in a financial bind or you’re booking a trip overseas, you won’t have to worry if the credit card PIN will arrive before you need it.

About the author: Lance Cothern is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. His work has appeared on Business Insider, USA Today.com and his website, MoneyManifesto.com. Lance holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in … Read more.