All credit cards are the same size as far as width and length, although they can vary nominally in thickness. Basically, all identification cards, credit cards, and debit cards in your wallet are about 3.5 inches by 2 inches. Credit card size was developed and standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to facilitate the ease of credit card usage across the globe.
Imagine if all the cards you carry were randomly sized according to the whims of credit card issuers. Maybe one company wants to stand out over others, so they make their credit card 3 by 5 inches, for example. That would be awkward; manufacturers would literally have to change the dimensions of our wallets. And that’s even before you consider card readers!
Clearly, there is a logic behind the design of our credit cards, debit cards, and identification cards. Let’s take a closer look at why these cards all have the same measurements, as well as other commonalities between the different types of cards.
Why credit card dimensions are the same
Regardless of the card issuer, credit card sizes are all the same: a width of 3.37 inches (85.6 mm) and a height of 2.125 (53.98 mm). But why?
If there weren’t an international credit card standard, travel would be a little tricky. Carrying cash can be dangerous, so credit cards have become the default currency when traveling. We tend to take standardization for granted, but if we didn’t have sets of standards like universal traffic signs or systems of measurement, the world would be a much more confusing place to navigate.
There is a long history behind the evolution of standardization, but according to the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), the card standard “ISO/IEC 7810:2003, together with a standard for test methods, provides for interchange between various types of identification card processing devices and systems.”
In layman’s terms, universal standards for creating cards and the terminals that process them make it easier to transact purchases from anywhere. Business becomes much more streamlined when credit cards are all the same size.
Other common features among credit cards
Aside from the fact that credit cards and other payment cards have the same card size, they also share many other features.
Name of the account holder
Almost every card will have your name on it somewhere. In the past, the name was always on the front of the credit card, but now it can often be found on the flip side instead.
This is the area on the card where you add your signature, theoretically to avoid fraud. Nowadays, merchants rarely handle your card, making this feature largely obsolete, so other security features have been added. Some innovative companies even take a digital image of your signature and engrave it on the card rather than having a space to sign your name, which is pretty cool.
All cards come with a magnetic stripe, also called a magnetic strip, for processing transactions. Of course, how long those will last remains to be seen now that most cards are equipped with a microchip. However, many gift cards and prepaid credit cards don’t come with chips (likely due to the added expense of a disposable card), so magnetic strips will probably still be around for a while.
Credit card network logo
A credit card network logo should not be confused with the financial institution that issued the card. The network logo signifies which credit card network backs your credit card — the big four are Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express — and determines what fees are charged when the card is swiped.
Name of issuing bank
A payment card will also have the name of the financial institution that issued the card. This could be the bank that issued the debit card for your personal checking account or any credit card company or bank that issues credit cards, such as Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America, or Discover.
Credit card numbers
Every credit or debit card has its own set of numbers unique to that card. The first eight digits correspond with the card network — such as Visa or Mastercard — and the numbers that follow represent the financial institution that issued the card.
As mentioned above, most credit and debit cards now come with an embedded microchip. This is called an EMV chip — short for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa — and it’s the global standard for credit card chips.
The chip holds encrypted data, which enhances your data security when making transactions at stores, terminals, or automated teller machines (ATMs). Chip readers can access all of the account information needed to make the transaction while keeping your data secure.
Another security feature that card companies have adopted is the three-digit code (four-digit for American Express) located on the back of your card, next to the signature line. This feature is intended to verify that the card is in hand when a buyer is shopping online or making purchases over the phone.
Almost all credit and debit cards come with an expiration date, which is typically a few years from when the card was issued. This makes sense: credit cards do get worn out over time, and having to renew your card every few years gives your card company an opportunity to update the card with the latest technology. To protect against fraud, you should always cut up or shred your old card when you activate a new one.
Credit card differences
Despite the fact that credit card size is universal, there are other features that a card issuer might use to distinguish their product and entice certain types of consumers. For example, you can get custom cards that feature your favorite sports team, a cartoon character, or your alma mater, to name a few options.
Another “newer” feature is different card materials: card companies can offer slick, heavy metal cards as opposed to the usual plastic cards we are all accustomed to. Originally designed only for the elite set, metal cards have since become more popular and accessible to the general public.
American Express was the first organization to offer a metal card: in 1999, they came out with a titanium product called the Centurion Card. It was meant to appeal to extremely affluent customers and came with a hefty “initiation fee,” along with steep annual fees. Today, many financial institutions offer their own version of the metal card, which can come in stainless steel, titanium, carbon, gold plate, or proprietary metal alloy blends.
Types of cards
Standard credit cards
These are your everyday credit cards issued by a wide variety of financial institutions. You are given a revolving line of credit, and you can borrow as much as you want up to the approved credit limit. Additionally, you are only required to make a minimum monthly payment (a percentage of the credit card debt plus interest charges) to keep your account in good standing.
Oftentimes, standard credit cards come with a rewards program to incentivize spending, which might include benefits like frequent flyer miles or cash back.
SuperMoney’s credit card comparison tool can help you filter credit card options based on the features that matter the most to you.
Secured credit cards
Secured cards are often a great way to build your credit or improve your credit score. They are secured with your own money, so there is less risk to the card issuer, and they allow you to establish a history of paying your bills on time.
Bank cards include your debit card or ATM card — or, more commonly, a combination of both. Back in the day, banks only issued ATM cards to customers, but now it’s even more convenient to have 24/7 access to your money.
Gift cards and prepaid cards come in the same size as standard credit cards and are used in much the same way. Consumers can use these cards for dining out, buying groceries, or shopping online, but only up to the specific limit prepaid and loaded to the card.
Why does credit card thickness come in different sizes?
While credit card size is always the same, card thickness may differ slightly. The ISO standard size for credit card thickness is 0.76 mm (about 0.03 inches), and variations are usually based on the different materials used to make credit cards, ID cards, etc. For example, the Apple card is made of a titanium alloy and is just a touch thicker than other cards.
- ISO standard credit card size is approximately 3.5 inches by 2 inches, which is the same standard for debit cards, ATM cards, and ID cards.
- Global transactions between consumers and merchants are easier to coordinate thanks to international standards of credit card size.
- In addition to credit card size, most cards share aesthetic and security features, making them easier to use virtually anywhere.
- Credit card dimensions only vary in thickness or weight, such as in the case of heavy metal cards.
Regardless of its size, thickness, or weight, you’ll want a good credit card to build your credit history and make your daily transactions easier. Check out our guide on how to evaluate credit card offers, and use our tools to compare the best personal credit cards on the market.
View Article Sources
- ISO/IEC 7810:2003, Identification cards — Physical characteristics – International Organization for Standardization
- Issuer Identifier Numbers (IINs) – American National Standards Institute
- Voluntary Standards Cover the Spectrum: From Transporting Radioactive Materials to Protecting Credit Card Data – American National Standards Institute
- Credit cards – Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- ATM Card, Debit Card, Credit Card: What’s the Difference? – AmericaSaves.org
- What is a credit card interest rate? What does APR mean? – Consumer Financial Protection Bureau