How to pay the new way: Doing a transaction with an EMV chip card

If the little metal chip on the new credit or debit card from your bank hasn’t clued you in, here’s a heads up: The United States is moving toward EMV technology (already the norm in other parts of the world), and it will change the way transactions are conducted. Thanks to incentives put in place by the card networks (Visa, Mastercard, etc.), the changes should accelerate starting October 2015.EMV terminal image with card

You can read more about the reasons behind the switch (and the security advantages of EMV) here. For now, here’s what this all means for you in the check-out line.

You will dip your card instead of swipe

You may have already noticed that newer terminals have a small slot in the bottom front. This is where cards will go under the new system. Stephanie Ericksen, vice president of risk products for Visa breaks the transaction down into three steps:

  1. Insert your card into the slot, chip side up.
  2. Keep your card in the terminal until the transaction is complete. Depending on the terminal, Ericksen says, you’ll see a message displayed that says something to the effect of “approved.”
  3. Remove your card. When Canada implemented EMV in 2004, there were anecdotes of consumers leaving their cards behind.

    “But a lot of the terminals now have much clearer messaging and they’ll say ‘Remove your card,’ Ericksen says. “Or they blink or beep.”

Simple, right? While the transactions themselves will be simple, there’s one complication. And that is …

The switch won’t be instantaneous

It will take time for merchants to implement the new technology. In addition to upgrading their equipment, they have to upgrade their software to make the EMV slot functional. The result? For a while (a few years, probably) you’ll encounter terminals with EMV slots that aren’t turned on.

So how do you know whether to swipe or dip?

Nobody wants to be the person holding up the line.

“When in doubt, go ahead and swipe,” Ericksen says.

If the card reader is capable of doing a chip transaction, it will prompt you to insert your card instead.

So what if you accidentally dip your card into a chip slot that hasn’t been activated? In that case, don’t expect the machine to correct you.

“It might not tell you to swipe instead because that slot might be ‘dumb,’ if you will,” Ericksen says. “It might not even know there’s a card in there.”

If nothing happens, don’t assume your chip is malfunctioning. Just swipe.

Some terminals might make things easier by making it obvious that they can read the chip.Visa chip card merchant decal

“Depending on the sophistication of the terminal, they may have light indicators that light up around the chip slot,” Ericksen says.

Cashiers will likely be helpful guides as well during the transition. And Visa has free signage available online that merchants can display at the register (see the image to the right).

“In many cases, the cashiers we’ve been doing demo transactions with are very aware,” Ericksen says.

If you’re at an unmanned card-reader (ATMs and fuel pumps will be migrating to EMV eventually as well), there may be some other cues to help you along – and make sure you keep your card inside the machine until the transaction is complete, a requirement for an EMV transaction.

The new ATMs, for example, may be motorized so they draw your card in all the way, Ericksen says. Upgraded automatic fuel dispensers may beep if you take your card out too soon or have a mechanism that clamps down on your card after you insert it.

“There will be a sensory difference if that’s the way the terminal works,” Ericksen says. “And I think consumers will learn over time”

While there might be some confusion at checkout lines in the coming months, there’s nothing complicated about EMV.

“The few [EMV] transactions I’ve done so far, it’s been consistent,” Ericksen says. “Insert your card. Don’t remove your card. Wait for approval. Remove your card. There have been some minor variations, but it’s been pretty clear.”

For more information on EMV and demo videos, visit

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