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America’s Best EMV ‘Chip With Signature’ Credit Cards

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Best EMV Chip Credit Cards

If you’ve gotten a new credit card recently, you may have noticed it has a tiny microchip embedded in it. This is an EMV chip, and you’ll likely see one in each of your cards soon. But don’t worry, this is a positive change: EMV chips make your point-of-sale transactions more secure and allow you to pay for goods and services at chip-only terminals.

Read on to learn all about EMV technology, as well as our favorite chipped cards and how to switch from swiping to dipping when you pay with plastic.

Table of Contents

What EMV is and why it matters

Europay, MasterCard and Visa developed these chips to make transactions more secure. Instead of processing limited data like a magstripe card, EMV technology allows dozens of pieces of non-static information to be transferred between the card, the terminal and the financial institution that processes credit card transactions for the merchant.

Chip technology mostly eliminates the risk of credit card skimming, a common practice for thieves committing credit card fraud. Fraudsters use a card-reading device to skim credit card information from a traditional magstripe card and load it onto a prepaid card. However, with an EMV chip, the card’s many pieces of data change for each transaction. Therefore, any skimmed information would be useless for the thief.

EMV cards have two major card verification methods: chip-and-PIN and chip-and-signature. Chip-and-signature — which allows you to verify your identity with a signature — is the most popular method in the U.S. due to its low cost and ease of use.

Chip-and-PIN cards, which are verified by a four- to six-digit PIN, are more widely used in Europe. Because it’s more difficult to replicate a PIN than a signature, chip-and-PIN cards are thought to be more secure, and certain overseas merchants only accept PIN-capable cards. If you’re planning on traveling internationally, you may want to consider a card with a PIN.

If your credit card isn’t chipped yet, it likely will be soon. In October 2015, a policy change called the “liability shift” will occur, placing the blame for fraudulent transactions on the issuer that doesn’t issue chipped cards and merchants that don’t accept them.

As it stands now, issuers alone are typically liable for credit card fraud, but now the blame will go to whichever party isn’t EMV capable, or it will be shared if both parties neglected to update. So while neither issuers nor merchants are being forced to upgrade to EMV technology, they have a strong financial incentive to do so.

Recommended EMV cards

If you’re in the market for a chipped card, here are some of our favorite options:

Best for travel optimizers: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
Apply Now

on Chase's
secure website

Travel enthusiasts with a penchant for a good deal will love the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It gives 2X points on travel and dining, and 1 point on every $1 spent on everything else. There’s also a sweet sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

A point is only as good as its value. In this case, a point is worth 1.25 cents (the industry standard is 1 cent) when used to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website. You can also transfer your points to one of Chase’s partner’s frequent flier programs. If you’re mile-savvy, you may be able to get an even better deal this way.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has an Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95, and no foreign transaction fees.

Best for cooks & commuters: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

American Express Blue Cash Preferred Credit Card
Apply Now

on American Express's
secure website

Home cooks and frequent drivers will appreciate the extra rewards provided by the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. It offers 6% back on grocery store purchases (up to $6,000 spent annually), 3% back at U.S. gas stations and certain department stores, and 1% back on everything else. The card also comes with a cash sign-up bonus: Get $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive $150 back in the form of a statement credit.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has a $75 annual fee and foreign transaction fees of 2.7%. The card has an introductory APR offer of 0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 21.99% Variable .

Best for flexible fliers: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is a great card if you want to book travel your way. It offers 2 miles on every dollar spent, plus a sign-up bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel. You can use your miles to book travel through the Capital One platform, or use the Purchase Eraser feature to get a statement credit for travel booked elsewhere.

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has an annual fee of $0 intro for first year; $59 after that and no foreign transaction fees.

Best for online shoppers: Discover it®-New! Double Cash Back your first year

Discover It Credit Card
Apply Now

on Discover's
secure website

Frequent online shoppers should check out the Discover it®-New! Double Cash Back your first year. It offers 5% back on rotating bonus categories on up to $1,500 spent each quarter, and 1% back on everything else.

This card is great for online shoppers for two reasons. First, the bonus categories in the fourth quarter historically include online purchases, so you may be able to get 5% back on up to $1,500 of online spending between October and December. Second, the Discover Deals bonus mall is one of the best in the industry. It offers 5% to 20% back at more than 200 online retailers.

The Discover it®-New! Double Cash Back your first year has an annual fee of $0 and no foreign transaction fees. There’s an introductory APR of 0% on purchases for 12 months and 0% on balance transfers for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 10.99% - 22.99% Variable.

Best for world travelers: Wells Fargo Propel World American Express

Wells Fargo Propel World American Express Credit Card
Apply Now

on Wells Fargo's
secure website

If your travels take you overseas, you may want to consider a card that’s PIN-capable, like the Wells Fargo Propel World American Express. It gives cardholders 3X points on airlines, 2X points on hotels and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. On top of that, it boasts a sign-up bonus worth talking about — you’ll earn 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in net purchases in the first 3 months.

The card’s annual fee is waived the first year and $175 every year thereafter, and there are no foreign transaction fees. Plus, there’s an airline incidental fee of up to $100 per year, reimbursable via statement credit.

How to use your EMV credit card

The process for using an EMV credit card is different than using a magstripe card, but you’ll catch on quickly. Instead of swiping, insert your card into the terminal and leave it there. Then follow the prompts of the terminal screen and wait to remove your card until the receipt begins printing. Just be careful not to leave your card behind.

It may take some time to get used to using your EMV card, but the extra security the card provides will be well worth the transition from swiping to “dipping.”

List of American EMV chip-and-signature credit cards

Current as of June 26, 2015

Here are the personal U.S. credit cards with EMV compatibility from the biggest card issuers:

If your current card is on the list, but it isn’t chipped, you can contact your issuer and request a new card. Issuers may not preemptively send out chipped cards to existing cardmembers until the liability shift occurs, but they will issue them to cardholders who ask.

Worldwide EMV adoption rates by region

Not entirely sure you need an EMV credit card? Here are EMV adoption numbers for regions around the world. As the data demonstrates, the EMV system has the strongest presence in western Europe, which includes the likes of Germany, Spain, France, Italy and England. While useful for adventures anywhere around the globe, chip-with-signature cards are absolutely vital to the success of Europe-bound travelers.

EMV Credit Card Adoption Rates
Region Number Percent
Western Europe & Greenland 833M 83.5%
Eastern Europe 153M 40.4%
Canada, Latin America & the Caribbean 544M 59.5%
Africa & the Middle East 116M 50.5%
Asia Pacific 1,676M 25.4%

Source: EMVCo, reporting on Q4 of 2014

Worldwide acceptance: Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express?

Visa and MasterCard are the two most widely accepted payment networks in the world, so most travelers won’t notice a difference in acceptance rates. However, Discover and American Express are accepted by fewer merchants in fewer countries. And while Discover happens to be the most prevalent payment network in China, those who travel to other countries may have a hard time finding someone to accept their Discover card or AmEx card.

Acceptance rate isn’t the only factor to consider; foreign transaction fees can make a huge difference. Many cards tack on fees of around 3% on every international purchase. Visa, MasterCard and American Express all offer cards with and without these fees, while Discover waives the fee on all of its cards. Check out the Nerds’ top cards with no foreign transaction fees if you travel or shop overseas.

Each network offers its own unique collection of travel benefits, like purchase protection, roadside assistance and rental car insurance. Visa and MasterCard offer similar perks, check your card benefits for details. American Express offers bonus benefits, including superior purchase and return protection. Discover falls short on rental coverage, because it doesn’t offer loss of use coverage on rental cars, but the issuer has recently added several benefits — including return and purchase protection.

Erin El Issa is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @Erin_Lindsay17.

Image via iStock.

  • freedda

    What this article does not make clear is that U.S. banks are, for the most part, still doing us a disservice by only offering ‘chip and sign’ cards, not true ‘chip and pin’ cards. The former still will not universally work in Europe and other places. An article about this new technology should make that clear, instead of merely serving as thinnly veiled advertising copy for credit card offers. Not accurate (on purpose), and therefore mostly worthless.

    • kirby123

      I don’t know what other banks are doing, but I think Chase Bank says on their website that only Chase-issued credit cards are Chip-and-Signature, and that chip-enabled debit cards (tied to a checking account) should function as a proper Chip-and-Pin card outside the US…

  • Peter

    Does the Bank Of America Travel Rewards card offer Chip & PIN? It wasn’t mentioned in the article if it does, it just mentions it has a chip (implying it could just be chip and signature). Or is Barclay Arrival the only one that has CHIP & PIN right now? Thanks.

    • Drew

      BOA Travel Rewards card is Chip and Signature.

  • Eileen

    Can this chip be read while still in your pocket or purse?

  • salharmonic

    What about ATMs in Italy? Is a strip debit card going to work? They are not upgrading debit cards to chips as fast as they are credit cards here in the U.S.

    • kirby123

      I highly doubt you will find an ATM anywhere in Europe that can take a magnetic stripe card. If you have a debit card at a major bank, like JPMC, you should be able to get a Chip-EMV card by simply walking into a branch and asking. I have a checking account with Chase Bank, and for that I had a Stripe card with the blink feature; I walked into a local branch the other day and explained to a banker that I wanted to upgrade to a chip card. He said ok, took my license and my debit card, and then gave me a brand new card, with the exact same number, expiration, and CVV, just with the EMV chip on the left side of the front of the card.

      • JaimeLobo

        AFAIK, *all* the ATM in Europe work with mag stripes. We have always used our regular U.S. ATM card all over Europe with no trouble.

  • Drew

    Capital One all of there cards are chip and signature

    • Makho Ushveridze

      Hi Drew,
      called fidelity rewards amex and card will be on it’s way in a week, thank you.
      also called capital one but they said that they only offer pin and sign to venture card holders, not cash rewards, what a bummer…

  • Karen Stryker

    I need a secured card with a chip. Does one exist?

  • dennphill

    When I saw chips on the pictures of cards, I (wrongly!) assumed we were talking of ‘chip and PIN’…now I find that almost all are ‘chip and signature’! What CRAP. (Sorry, hope this goes through, still.) I was trying to get away from my USAA MC with a chip and PIN that worked well last year – Russia, Scandinavia, Germany – but it had no points or cashback with it. So I just applied, and got approved for (waiting on the mail), a CapOne Quicksilver card and find my wife also recently applied for a Venture card. Now I find – confirmed by the CapOne reps – that these are both ‘chip and signature’ cards. Worthless to us for international travel! (Don’t care what Rick Steves says about how you just have to go up to a nearby clerk and ask to sign. That doesn’t work in the toll lane on an Autostrada!) Boy, what a disappointment. My error in assuming that a chip meant there would be a PIN sent with the card! Nerdwallet – you guys need to go back to the drawing boards and tell us folks trying to get smart (and get cashback or points deals) which of theses cards DO have PINs…and can be easily used worldwide! And you card issuers….get smart and get with he program!

    • NerdWallet

      Sorry for the confusion! It’s true that, right now, most chip-enabled credit cards issued in the U.S. are chip-and-signature, not chip-and-PIN. This might make some overseas transactions less convenient, but chip-and-signature does provide added security over swipe-and-sign. The Nerds will be sure to keep you updated if more PIN-capable cards enter the market!