Today, you will be hard-pressed to find a consumer who doesn’t have at least one credit card in their wallet. When used properly, credit cards can be an excellent tool for building a strong financial future. However, one particular aspect of having a credit card that some people find bothersome is the expiration date — and the wide range of activities it can trigger. Here is a look at what happens when your credit card expires, and the things you should look out for as a savvy consumer.

Key Takeaways

  • Expiration dates on credit cards might refer to the card expiration, not the account.
  • Expiration dates are intended to account for normal wear and tear as well as fraud prevention.
  • When cards expire, companies can take the opportunity to send new cards with updated logos and designs.

The Reasons for Expiration Dates

Expiration dates on credit cards are there for several reasons. They refer to the expiration of the card, not the credit card account.

Primarily, expiration dates are placed on credit cards for normal wear and tear. The chip on the card can become worn and plastic can break. At certain intervals — typically every three years—your credit card company will send you a new card. 

The second big reason: fraud prevention. Whether you’re using the card in person, over the phone or online, the expiration date provides an additional data point that can be checked to make sure the card information is valid and you are the legitimate user.

Other reasons for expiration dates: They present the card issuer with a marketing opportunity and a chance to periodically re-evaluate the terms of the credit card based on your current creditworthiness. Card companies also may use the expiration date as an opportunity to send you a card with an updated design or logo.

Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2020 

Time for a New Card

Many credit card companies send out a notification and a new credit card in the 30 to 60 days leading up to the expiration date on your existing credit card. Other companies will send you a letter or email asking if you would like to renew. 

Confirm That the Credit Card Terms Are Still the Same

Before activating your new card, confirm that the credit card terms and conditions are still the same. Verify that the annual percentage rate (APR)—the interest rate you pay—is still the same. Also make sure that payment due dates, fees and penalties remain the same before renewing your credit card. Rather than being caught by surprise after you renew with your credit card company, get all the facts in black and white before signing.

The Arrival of Your New Card

Before you use the new card you receive, you will need to activate it; typically, the card will come with a sticker indicating a website address where you can activate the card or a toll-free number to call. Then, once you add your new credit card to your wallet, be sure to cut up your old card and discard it. You don’t want your old credit card information to get into the wrong hands. Finally, once you have a new credit card, be sure to update any automatic payments you’ve been making with the card to reflect the new card details.

Prime Opportunity to Market New Products

When a credit card expires, the credit card company has a prime opportunity to market new products to its customers. As you decide whether to stay with your old credit card or upgrade to a newer product with attractive features, you will face many options. Before selecting any particular credit card, be sure to compare and contrast the various cards against your old one. By carefully researching the cards the issuer offers, you will be fully prepared and know what to expect when that first bill comes in.

The Bottom Line

Facing a credit card expiration date can be a bit confusing, but generally, there's little reason to worry. Credit card companies do not want to lose business. That is why when credit cards near their expiration dates, you start to hear more and more from the company. This is a prime opportunity for the company to remind you of all the products it offers and keep you as a loyal customer. Before signing on the dotted line, do your homework so that you are using a card best matched to your current financial needs and spending patterns.