Have you heard the rumour that placing your credit card or debit card near a magnet can irreversibly damage it? Although it is true that your credit card does contain a magnetic strip and placing it near another magnet can ruin its magnetic ability (a phenomenon called demagnetization) most people will never experience this in their daily lives. Demagnetization is very rare. Let’s look at why this is.
When your card is made in an ID card maker machine, the magnetic strip that is added is made from a “hard” magnetic substance such as ferrous oxide. The strip is then covered by a thin but tough film of plastic, which is designed to help protect your card from the abrasion that happens when you swipe it through a card reader. Credit card makers go through great lengths to make sure their cards are durable, because it costs those companies millions of dollars each year to have to replace damaged cards.
Sometimes, your card may not successfully swipe at a card reader. Many people automatically panic, thinking that their card has been demagnetized. A more likely answer, however, is that either there is an issue with your account or that your card has dirt on the magnetic strip. If this happens, the first solution to try is to gently wipe your card on your shirt or another soft cloth to see if that removes whatever is causing the issue.
There are some cases in which the magnetization of your credit card is in real danger of being affected, however. For example, if you are ever in the hospital and require an MRI you need to be sure to remove anything magnetic from your pockets, including your wallet that contains your credit cards. This is because MRI technology uses extremely strong magnets to generate an image – magnets that are strong enough to penetrate right through your body! Even if you are not the patient but are accompanying someone to the test, be sure you either stand at a safe distance (the technician will tell you where to stand) or that you remove all magnetic things from your pockets.
Some wallets or purses also have magnets in the closures, but these are generally not strong enough to pose any real threat to your credit cards.
What happens if your credit card does happen to accidentally become demagnetized? Unfortunately, you won’t be able to tell until you go to try to make a payment with it, which can be a very embarrassing situation as the cashier hands you back your rejected card and everyone in line around you assumes that you have exceeded your credit limit. When that happens, simply ask the cashier to input the credit card number and expiration date into the reader manually. Swiping your card is simply a way to automatically input those numbers (stored in the magnetic strip) into the system, but it is not required. Alternatively, the cashier can call the card processing company and read the information to them over the phone.
Once that transaction is taken care of, however, you’re going to need to get a replacement card. Head to your bank branch or call your credit card company to get a replacement card sent to you.