Why Do Magnetic Stripes Stop Working?

Why do magnetic stripes stop working? Why do magnetic strips on your ATM or debit card stop working and what can you do to prevent it from happening or replace your card? When the bank issues you a new ATM,...

When the bank issues you a new ATM, debit or credit card, there will always be a magnetic strip on the back. These magnetic strips consist of a very thin layer of flexible material, and while durable, occasionally they will suffer damage or stop working.

The bank activates the strip electronically, and when swiped, it unlocks your account information. You can also find these strips on driver's licenses, hotel keys, shopper's discount cards and prepaid phone or gift cards.

When your bank activates your card, they imprint your account information on the strip. This information is most likely your account numbers and your PIN but for security reasons should not contain your account balances.

When you place your card in an ATM or a vendor swipes it, the machine can read your information and allow you access to your account funds for withdrawal or deposit, or to access your account to deduct the amount of your purchase.

Though these strips are quite handy, they are not perfect.

"Sometimes they just get swiped out", says Steven Twirago, personal banker with Chase Bank.

If you have had your card for a long time the act of repeatedly running it through ATMs and card machines in retail stores may have worn the strip down until it no longer works. At times, extreme heat can damage that material and your card will stop working.

"Damage can occur if your card is bent. The machine will not be able to read the information on the strip correctly and you will have to get your card replaced," explains Twirago.

"Don't put it near anything magnetic," he warns. If you pass your card too close to a strong magnet, this will erase the information on your strip and the card will then be useless.

A magnet activates the strip, so by putting it to close to one your information can be erased or corrupted. Some argue that a weaker magnet will not affect the strip but it is always better to err on the side of caution.

Protect your magnetic strip by keeping it safely in your wallet. If your card came with a cover always store the card within it. Keep your card dry and out of direct sunlight.

Remember that even though your account balance is not imprinted on your strip, you should keep your card in a safe place and never trust anyone with your PIN. There is enough account information on the magnetic strip to allow thieves to gain access to your account and empty it out.

When you discover your card is no longer working, there is only one thing you can do.

"If the card doesn't register correctly, a customer can go to the bank and request a replacement," states Twirago.

The amount of time this will take depends on your bank. The turn around time is usually pretty quick.

"If your strip is no longer working and you are issued a new card, dispose of your old card safely by destroying it, or the bank can shred the card for you immediately," says Twirago.

Carelessness or long-term use may destroy your strip but they are easily replaced. In the future they may not be used at all.

Mr. Twirago reports, "Chase just came out with a new credit card called a 'Blink' that doesn't use a magnetic strip. Stay tuned."

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