Credit cards have become an extremely versatile financial tool. In fact, there are not only many different kinds of cards — such as cash back, travel, and balance transfer, among others — but there are also multiple payment methods associated with credit cards. You can swipe it, tap it, insert it, or simply type in the numbers when shopping online.
Regardless of how you use your credit card or which card you have, actual credit card sizes have been standardized ever since vendors used flatbed machines to create imprints of your credit card’s information. Cards also need to be a standard size to fit into credit card processing machines or ATMs.
Since every card is the same size, you won’t have to worry about some cards being bigger than others or not fitting into your wallet. However, although all credit card dimensions are the same, there can still be big differences in appearance from one card to the next.
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Standard Credit Card Dimensions
All credit cards are 3.37 inches or 85.6 millimeters wide and 2.125 inches or 53.98 mm high. There is a standard credit card size for all cards because it is much more convenient for merchants to interact with them. If cards came in all different sizes, stores and service providers would need to have tons of different card readers to make sure each one could fit into a machine for payment processing.
Fortunately, credit card issuers didn’t need to come together and just agree on the size of cards, as this likely would have been a confusing and difficult process. Instead, organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) set guidelines. There are 162 member countries in the ISO, and ISO/IEC 7810#ID-1 established the guidelines member countries must adhere to for credit card dimensions.
That means that not only is there a standard credit card size for cards issued in the U.S., but also that cards issued across the world are all sized the same.
Credit Card Materials
Although the size of every card may be the same, different credit cards have very different looks. One of the things that set cards apart is the materials from which they are made. Some of the materials commonly used for cards include:
- Metal: Metal is often reserved for luxury credit cards for people who want to spend in style. Metal credit cards are heavier and often have a more elegant look.
- Gold: Some exclusive luxury cards take design and elegance to a whole new level — they’re sometimes plated in gold.
- Plastic: Plastic is a common material used for making credit cards. Plastic cards don’t have the elegant look of a metal or gold-plated card but can be lighter to carry around in your wallet. And if you don’t want (or qualify for) a higher-tier credit card, a plastic one may be your only option.
Parts of a Credit Card
Cards differentiate themselves not just with their materials but also with designs. Many creditors actually go out of their way to make sure they provide the best looking credit card. Style-conscious borrowers appreciate this attention to detail.
Even though they look different, however, most credit card designs include the same basic components:
- A logo from the issuing bank: The issuing bank is the financial institution that markets the card. Examples include Bank of America or Citibank.
- A credit card network logo: The credit card network determines where a card is accepted and what fees are charged when the card is swiped. There are four major card networks: Mastercard, Visa, Discover, and American Express.
- The card name: Many cards have names, such as Premier Rewards, Platinum Card, or Cash Rewards. The card’s name is usually displayed on the card itself.
- An EMV chip: EMV chips are small chips that hold cardholder information. EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard, Visa, which is the global standard for the technology that makes these chips work. Chips actually come in two forms: chip-and-signature, which requires you to sign the receipt slip; or chip-and-PIN, which requires you to input a PIN number to complete a transaction.
- A hologram: Holograms aren’t found on all cards. They are security features with multiple layers that make it harder to copy a card.
- The card number: Every credit card has an identifying number displayed on it. The American National Standards Institute or ISO assign credit card numbers. Card numbers could be found on the front or the back of the card. The card number used to be embossed back when merchants used paper slips to process cards, but it’s less common to see embossed card numbers now that different payment-processing technologies are used today.
- The card security code: Security codes help prevent fraud in situations where you don’t swipe a card. Security codes are three digits for three of the four card issuers; American Express cards have four-digit numbers.
- An expiration date: Cards are good only for a limited period of time. Each card has a printed expiration date. When your card expires, your card issuer typically sends you another card automatically.
- The cardholder name: Cards contain the name of the person authorized to use them. This could be found on the front or back of the card.
- A tap-to-pay chip: Some, but not all cards, contain contactless chips to allow you to simply tap your card to pay instead of having to swipe or insert it into a card reader machine. Tap-to-pay chips aren’t usually visible, but there’s often a symbol on the front or back of the card that shows you where the chip is embedded.
- A signature field: Signature fields are where you put your signature on chip-and-signature cards. Merchants are supposed to make you sign a receipt and then check your signature against the one on the card. Some people write “SEE ID” on the signature card instead as an added measure of security if they want the merchant to ask to see ID upfront versus trying to determine if the signatures match.
- A magnetic stripe: Magnetic stripes, or magstripes, have millions of tiny magnetic particles that hold account information. When a merchant swipes your credit card using a card reader, the reader detects the information on this strip. If the reader cannot read the information, it can’t process the transaction.
Types of Payment Cards
Although all payment cards look similar thanks to ISO standards, there are actually several different types of payment cards you could get. These include:
- Credit cards: Credit cards allow you to establish a line of credit. You can borrow up to the maximum credit available at any one time; as you make monthly payments and pay down the balance, you can keep borrowing up to your total credit limit. If you pay off the balance in full each month — even though only minimum payments are required — you won’t have to pay interest charges.
- Secured credit cards: Secured cards are a special type of credit card that requires collateral. You’ll need to provide a security deposit that is usually equal to your line of credit. Typically, people with bad credit obtain secured cards because these are the only cards for which they can get approved. Secured cards can also help borrowers develop a positive payment history and improve their credit score over time.
- Charge cards: Charge cards work like credit cards, but you must pay your balance in full every single month. This means you never get stuck paying interest. Some of the best American Express cards are charge cards.
- Debit cards: Unlike charge cards, debit cards don’t give you access to a line of credit. Instead, you can swipe your debit card to pay and the money is pulled directly out of a linked bank account. You can’t spend more than the amount of money in your account or your bank will charge you hefty overdraft fees or simply deny the purchase.
- Gift cards: Gift cards are purchased with an upfront payment and you can swipe the card to pay. The balance on the card is reduced when you make purchases and once you spend the fixed amount available on the card, you can’t use it anymore — unless it’s reloadable and you add more cash.
Thanks to ISO standards, the size of credit cards is always the same even though they work very differently.
Now you know that no matter which credit card you sign up for, it will be the same size thanks to international standards. You can pick your card based on material, design, or — ideally —features like the APR, rewards program, and perks. You can also rest easy knowing your card will always fit in your wallet and in chip readers, so you don’t have to worry about it being too small or too large.
Author: Christy Rakoczy
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