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The future of credit cards is not only bright, but it’s also very high tech. Already, there are companies transforming old-fashioned magnetic strip plastic into miniature computers with extraordinary capability. I don’t have one of these fancy new versions yet, but I hope to be carrying one soon.
The Incentive to Upgrade
There are trillions of credit cards issued each year, so innovators have a major incentive to improve them and make them more fun and functional for us to use. In Europe, for instance, they have been way ahead of the curve for years when it comes to card innovations. Card companies there use what is known as “pin and chip” technology. Chip-enabled cards are really hard for criminals to hack, whereas crooks find it relatively easy to steal credit card information stored on a magnetic strip.
Banks in the USA have been dragging their feet in this regard, mainly because converting over to the superior pin and chip technology will cost them money. As we all know, banks can be pretty stingy – especially when it comes to doing what is best and most user-friendly for the customer. So if you go to the UK and try to pay for your meal with an obsolete piece of American plastic, your transaction may not work. You can thank your bank for that – that is if you are able to make your card function well enough to pay for the trip home. My advice to everyone in the meantime is to check with your bank before you travel to make sure the cards you carry will actually work in foreign ATMs and card-swiping terminals.
Dynamic Buttons, Bells, and Whistles
Don’t be too impatient though, because the future of credit cards is on it's way to the USA. Two years ago I first read about the Pittsburgh-based tech company Dynamics, Inc. and their push-button credit card invention. Some of the highlights of the cards they plan to offer are:
- More than one account can be managed with a single piece of plastic, because Dynamics embeds multiple computer chips, buttons, and LED light displays.
- If I’m using my card for a business purchase, for instance, I can push the business card button. When I swipe it the transaction goes to my corporate card.
- If I then want to make a personal purchase on my other account with the same card issuing company, I push another button to convert the plastic over to a personal credit card.
- Others features let you switch, for example, between ATM accounts and credit card accounts.
Meanwhile these cards – which are essentially thin, tiny, card-sized computers – are much safer and more secure from credit card fraudsters and hackers. One feature uses a PIN number or unlock code to activate the card, for instance, so if the card is lost or stolen it won’t work for anyone else who tries to use it.
When Can You Get One?
Citigroup announced about a year ago that it was already doing pilot tests with these elegantly technological cards. I have yet to see one, but as soon as they get the bugs worked out during the testing phase you can expect to be offered your own push-button plastic. Other big card companies are also partnering with Dynamics. So it is just a matter of time – and probably a relatively short time – before magnetic stripes are a relic of the past and we are all using chip-enhanced models.
Futuristic Merchant Perks
Other technologies that are especially good for merchants were also launched within the past year or so.
- The most impressive one is the Square, which is a little square piece of high-tech plastic that can be inserted into a smartphone or tablet PC.
- Once it’s plugged in – and the Square is only about half the size of a credit card – it turns that device into a credit card terminal. Merchants can then accept payments using the phone, iPad, or similar device.
- That saves them from paying the normal $35-$50 bucks per month to rent a traditional credit card terminal, and they can get Square capability without signing a long-term lease.
- Portable card acceptance technology also works great for vendors who are mobile – like my cab driver or the guy selling BBQ or tee shirts at an outdoor art festival.
Buy Bling with a BlingTag
Then there is the BlingTag, a “near field communication” or wireless chip that you slap onto your cell phone like an adhesive patch. Instead of swiping your actual plastic, all you have to do is tap your phone against the merchant’s card machine. Your transaction is wireless, you get an email or text message receipt, and the payment goes through your PayPal account. Bling Tag technology is already popular and spreading fast, so you might have already used it or seen it in operation.