A New Way to Tap and Pay

Seventy-eight of the top 100 U.S. merchants can now handle contactless transactions, and more contactless cards are rolling out.

For years, Apple Pay and other mobile wallets have offered customers the ability to “tap to pay” at the register. Now, U.S. credit- and debit-card issuers are hopping on the bandwagon. Contactless payments are typically speedier than transactions in which you insert a card into a chip reader. To use a contactless card, you hold it within a few inches of any terminal that accepts near-field communication (NFC) payments—look for a symbol with four vertical curves.

All newly issued and renewed Chase Visa consumer credit cards now have contactless-payment capability. Chase Visa debit cards will carry the technology starting in the second half of 2019. Capital One added contactless technology to its Quicksilver, Savor and Venture credit cards last year. American Express is actively issuing some credit cards—including the Hilton Honors and Gold cards—with contactless capability, and you can request a contactless-enabled version of any Amex consumer card. Pentagon Federal Credit Union is also issuing contactless Visa credit and debit cards.

Among U.S. merchants that accept Visa payments, 78 of the top 100 (ranked by number of transactions) can now handle contactless transactions. Target recently announced that it would soon take contactless payments; other merchants accepting them include Costco Wholesale, CVS Pharmacy and McDonald’s.

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More secure. A contactless card transfers unique, encrypted data when you tap to pay—just as it does when you insert it into a chip reader—so that thieves can’t glean enough useful information in a breach to create counterfeit cards. Fraudsters could use a skimming device to steal data from your card by coming in close proximity to it. But that’s not a valid concern because crooks still can’t gather enough viable data to make counterfeit cards, says Randy Vanderhoof, director of the U.S. Payments Forum.

You could buy an “RFID blocking” wallet or sleeve to play it safe, but it may not be worthwhile. Wrapping your card in foil will obstruct the signal, says Vanderhoof.

Lisa Gerstner
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Lisa has spent more than15 years with Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and heads up the magazine’s annual rankings of the best banks, best rewards credit cards, and financial-services firms with the best customer service. She reports on a variety of other topics, too, from retirement to health care to money concerns for millennials. She has shared her expertise as a guest on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, NPR, Cheddar and many other media outlets around the nation. Lisa graduated from Ball State University and received the school’s “Graduate of the Last Decade” award in 2014. A military spouse, she has moved around the U.S. and currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.