What To Do With Old Credit Cards (8+ Methods to Consider)

Article Summary:

If an old credit card is disposed of improperly, it could be used to charge your account without you knowing. With identity theft and fraud running rampant, it’s vital to know what to do with an expired credit card. Fortunately, there are various methods, many free, that can be used to take care of old credit cards and avoid fraud.

Do you have a bunch of old credit cards piling up in a drawer somewhere? Are you wondering what to do with them? Don’t just throw those cards away; you could be throwing your cash right into a thief’s wallet.

In the past, expired cards or cards from closed accounts were often cut into a couple of pieces and thrown away. Nowadays, however, clever thieves and advanced technologies like EMV and RFID make additional steps necessary to keep your accounts secure.

So what are the safest methods to dispose of your old cards? This guide will help you take steps to destroy credit cards securely and protect yourself against fraud. We’ll consider some of the many ways to destroy a credit card sufficiently, so you can keep your financial future headache-free.

Methods to dispose of old credit cards

There are many methods you can use to properly dispose of your old “plastic money” (i.e., your old credit card). Below are the easiest and most common ways to dispose of an expired credit card.

The office shredder

Do you have a paper shredder in your possession? Many basic office shredders have the ability to destroy your plastic cards for you. If your paper shredder has this capability, it can save you some time.

Not all shredders with this feature will work the same, though. Is your paper shredder designed to crosscut? If not, a thief could easily piece your cards back together.

If you don’t have a shredder but are looking to purchase one, make sure that it crosscuts and that it’s specifically designed to handle credit cards. Buying a shredder won’t set you back much and could save you some hassle in the future.

The paper clip method

A cheap method that can be fairly effective is using a paper clip to efface the information on your cards. If you choose this method, make sure to scratch through the magnetic strip, the chip (if embedded), your name, the card number, the CVV, and the expiration date.

The scissor method

Another method to destroy an expired credit card is by using a good pair of scissors.

If you choose to cut up an old card, be sure to make many small cuts in the plastic going in alternating directions. Making only a couple of horizontal or vertical cuts will make it too easy for a thief to piece the card back together and steal your info.

To go the extra mile, scatter the cut pieces by disposing of them in multiple trash bags. Even better, spread the bags out over several trash days. By cutting your card into small pieces and dispersing them into multiple trash bags, you give yourself another layer of protection against fraud.

Pro Tip

If you decide to use the scissor method to get rid of your cards, make sure you make enough cuts that no one could easily put them back together. The magnetic stripe, the card number, the expiration date, the security code, and the EMV chip (the part of your card that looks like a computer chip) must all be completely destroyed beyond reassembly.

The magnet method

Is it possible to erase the information stored on a credit card by putting it next to a fridge magnet? A magnet’s effect on credit cards depends on a variety of factors, including the length of exposure, the strength of the magnet, and the distance of the magnet from the cards.

When cards are exposed to a strong magnet at least an inch or closer and for an extended period of time, it’s possible for the magnet to erase the information on the magnetic stripe.

Note that this method is generally not as effective for disposing of your cards, since it won’t destroy the number printed on the card, your name, or the card’s EMV capability.

Disposing of EMV-enabled cards

EMV — named after the companies that created the specifications for the technology: Europay, Mastercard, and Visa — refers to the small square computer chip on the front of many newer credit cards. These chips create a one-of-a-kind code for each transaction and are more secure than cards with only magnetic stripes.

Because of its use as a contactless payment method, this technology has become very popular since the COVID-19 pandemic in the early 2020s. There are now over two billion active EMV chip cards in use and over 35 million EMV acceptance terminals deployed around the world.

If you have a credit card or debit card, there’s a good chance it has an EMV chip. That’s why it’s important to know that if any chips are still intact when disposing of expired credit cards, hackers can use the data stored in the chips to steal your account number and other sensitive information.

If your old card has an EMV chip, make sure that the method you use to dispose of it will cut or score the chip sufficiently to render it useless.

Disposing of metal credit cards

If you have a metal credit card, the best method to destroy it is by using a paper clip to etch the magnetic strip and EMV, then using tin snips to cut them up. Tin snips will cut through metal credit cards almost as well as scissors cut through paper.

If you don’t have tin snips at your disposal, another option is to mail the metal card back to the issuer and have them dispose of it properly.

Alternative methods to dispose of credit cards

In addition to the methods mentioned above, there are several alternatives for getting rid of your old card. Here are some examples of alternative methods to dispose of an old credit card:

Send an expired credit card back to the card issuer

You can mail your expired credit and debit cards back to the card issuer. If you are issued a replacement card, most issuers will send a prepaid envelope to return your expired card.

For example, Capital One will destroy your old metal card for you when issuing you a new credit card. Simply use the return envelope that comes with your replacement card to mail the old one back to the issuer.

Repurpose old cards

If your financial decisions are often directed by your environmental consciousness, you may be wondering if recycling your cards is an option. Although merely recycling a card could be disastrous, repurposing your cards might be the environmentally friendly option you’re looking for.

Repurposing old items can not only help the environment but can also be fun and thrifty. If you’re creative and love to repurpose, there are plenty of new uses you could find for your old payment card. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Do you play guitar? Turn your plastic cards into guitar picks! Take a sharpie and trace an outline of a pick, then take a pair of scissors and cut the outline. Now you have a couple more thin picks at your disposal.

Another idea is to use your expired card as a battery cover. If you’ve ever lost the back side of your remote control, you know that batteries constantly falling out is a real pain. With an old credit card, you can say goodbye to losing batteries and say hello to your new battery cover. Simply mark the size of the battery cover on your card and cut away!

Here are some other ideas for repurposing old cards:

  • Bookmarks
  • Shims
  • Glass scrapers
  • Door unlockers
  • Paint applicators for art

Choosing to repurpose your cards might not be one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll make in your life, but it could be a great way to save money and stay eco-friendly in the process.

Pro Tip

If you do choose to use one of the repurposing methods listed above, be careful not to put your finances in danger. When your sensitive information, such as your card number, is left intact, an opportunist waiting to steal your information can easily take advantage. Make sure to efface or destroy all sensitive information on your card associated with your account.

FAQ

Should I close my account if I don’t often use a credit card?

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether or not to close a credit card account. Just because you don’t use the card doesn’t mean that keeping the account open is a bad idea. That said, if you go too long without using your card, the card issuer may end up closing the account for you anyway.

How much are credit card annual fees?

One factor to consider when deciding whether or not to close an unused credit card account is how much you pay in fees. Rewards cards with a high return rate often come with a hefty annual fee, while more basic cards may have no annual fees. To avoid the fee on a card, you could close the account, but don’t rush to this option. Keeping your accounts open could help you avoid changing your credit utilization rate and inadvertently lowering your credit score.

What is my credit utilization ratio?

Your credit utilization ratio is determined by comparing the amount of credit you’re using to your total credit. Generally, financial institutions like to see a utilization rate below 30%. A rate higher than 30% can negatively impact your credit scores.

The more accounts you have, the higher your available credit will be, and the more you can spend before reaching the 30% debt ratio threshold.

If I’m not paying fees, is having more cards always better?

Not necessarily. The more cards you have, the harder it is to keep up with payments. Be sure to monitor how much you’re spending on each credit card and when your payments are due. It’s also a good idea to pay off your credit card balances in full each month instead of only making the minimum payments.

Pro Tip

Although having more credit cards can lower your utilization ratio, in general, if you have more than three credit cards, it may be hard to keep track of payments. Missed payments result in lower credit scores and higher fees. Despite the potential advantages, you should avoid having more credit cards than you can manage.

If you’re not paying high annual fees and your debt ratio is low, then keeping your accounts open can contribute to a good credit score.

If you decide to close out your account, make sure to check if there are any automatic payments coming from that account. Check your credit card documents for recurring payments, then cancel them or switch them to another payment method before closing your account.

Key Takeaways

  • One way to reduce the risk of credit fraud is to properly destroy your expired credit cards.
  • There are several safe methods to discard an old credit card, including shredding the card with a crosscut shredder, etching the card thoroughly with a paper clip, and cutting the card into several small pieces, and distributing those pieces across multiple trash bags.
  • Strong magnets are not good for destroying credit cards, as there is no guarantee they will erase all sensitive information from the card.
  • Expired credit cards can also be sent back to the issuer, especially metal credit cards.
  • EMV refers to the computer chip embedded into some credit cards. If your old card has one, make sure the chip is destroyed completely before disposal.
  • Don’t merely recycle a credit card. Look for ways to repurpose cards instead (without jeopardizing your sensitive information, of course).

A popular quote attributed to Albert Einstein says that “intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.” While there’s no guaranteed way to completely prevent identity theft, there are certain measures you can take to protect yourself, including getting rid of your old credit cards safely. If you take a couple of extra steps to destroy your old credit card, it could prevent someone from stealing your information and keep you safe from fraud.

Need a new credit card to replace your old one? Read SuperMoney’s guide on how to evaluate credit card offers and use our comparison tool to find your next credit card.

View Article Sources
  1. A Guide to EMV Chip Technology – EMVCo
  2. What to Expect When Your Capital One® Credit Card Expires – Capital One
  3. 20 practical ways to recycle your old credit card – Mobile Transaction
  4. What to Shred – Washington State, Office of the Attorney General