Chip & PIN cards are a type of credit card that holds some advantages over traditional magnetic stripe cards and even over chip & signature cards, the latter two of which make up the vast majority of credit cards in the US. The biggest advantage it has is it is a much higher level of secure protection over credit card fraud than the other options, and with the recent massive credit card debacle at Target, is more visible than ever before. The EMV chip embedded in these cards has encrypted your credit card data, making it very difficult to purloin. Some chip & PIN cards in Europe don’t actually have the magnetic strips on the back, as they can be easy to reproduce; they only have the chip & PIN function.
Gizmodo has an article breaking down in greater detail the exact details of Chip & PIN cards and technology. Gary over at View from the Wing also has a great article on them, and why he is not in favor of them coming to the US.
Whether or not you want them here, they can definitely be beneficial to you should you happen to travel to a place where they only accept Chip & PIN cards, such as certain stores and restaurants in Europe. On my recent trip to Milan, I stopped to get gas for my Fiat 500, using my Arrival card (w/ chip & signature), and was asked for a PIN. I’d never set a PIN, so tried several things including 0000, but none worked, so I had to go to another station. However, up until a couple of days ago I was unsuccessful at finding any US-based credit card providers who offered Chip & PIN cards; they were all magnetic strip only or Chip & signature.
Here is a guide, via creditcards.com, on current world EMV adoption rates.
One of our readers, @Ben, recently told me that USAA, a bank that I truly love (I bet you don’t hear many people saying that about their bank), offers a Chip & PIN card! It appears as though it can function as a Chip & PIN, but also with a magnetic strip, so not as secure as it could be, but will function in Chip & PIN-only transactions.
Here is a PDF with some FAQs about the USAA World Mastercard w/ Chip & PIN. What happens is you apply for the regular card, and then once you get it and activate it, you can call in and request your Chip & PIN card, at which time you’ll set your PIN. UPDATE: I just called this morning, and they said because of the surge of requests secondary to the Target breach, they won’t be offering them again until mid-March. Mine will be mailing out in mid-March.
Here is the application page. You do need to be a USAA member to get one.
There is bad news though – this card, although it doesn’t have an annual fee, it does have a 1% foreign transaction fee.
This will be a great card to add to my armamentarium when I go overseas, but because of the foreign transaction fee, I won’t be using it unless I have to.