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NerdWallet’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® Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure website

Pros

  • A large bonus
  • $0 foreign transaction fee
  • Cool factor - metal card
  • Rewards redemption bonus through Ultimate Rewards

Cons

  • Introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95
  • Best for savvy travelers

Bonus Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

Introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95

Intro APR Promotions

N/A

APR

  • APR: 16.24%-23.24% Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Sleek metal card design
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • $0 foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance when used at a chip card reader
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value - that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
  • Travel confidently with premium Travel Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Trip Delay Reimbursement and more

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 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

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

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure website

Pros

  • Leading cash back rewards for groceries
  • Sign-up bonus
  • 0% APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers

Cons

  • Has annual fee - but if you spend more than $31/week the rewards offset the fees
  • American Express isn’t accepted at as many merchants as Visa or MasterCard

Bonus Offer

Earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive the $150 back in the form of statement credits.

Annual Fee

$95 ($75 if your application is received by 8/3/16)

Intro APR Promotions

0% on Purchases for 12 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 12 months

APR

  • APR: 13.24%-23.24% Variable
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.49%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.49%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive the $150 back in the form of statement credits.
  • Earn Cash Back: 6% at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, 3% at U.S. gas stations & select U.S. dept stores, 1% on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • With the Blue Cash Preferred® Card, you can get cash back. No rotating reward categories. No enrollment required.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. Cash back is earned only on eligible purchases.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, then a variable rate, currently 13.24% to 23.24%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.
  • View Rates and Fees

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: Earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive the $150 back in the form of statement credits.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has a $95 ($75 if your application is received by 8/3/16) annual fee and foreign transaction fees of 2.7%. The card has an introductory APR offer of 0% on Purchases for 12 months and 0% on Balance Transfers for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.24%-23.24% 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® - Cashback Match™

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Apply Now on Discover's secure website

Pros

  • Cash back match at the end of your first year
  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No annual fee
  • 0% on purchases for 12 months and 0% on balance transfers for 12 months

Cons

  • Slightly less merchant acceptance for Discover in US - acceptance outside of US can be an issue
  • No sign-up bonus
  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better

Bonus Offer

You could turn $200 into $400 with Cashback Match™. We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% on purchases for 12 months and 0% on balance transfers for 12 months

APR

  • APR: 11.24% – 23.24% Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • You could turn $200 into $400 with Cashback Match™. We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.
  • Earn 5% cash back in new bonus categories like gas, restaurants, Amazon and more - up to $1500 every quarter you activate. Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • FICO® Credit Scores for free on statements and online.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

Frequent online shoppers should check out the Discover it® - Cashback Match™. 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® - Cashback Match™ 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 11.24% – 23.24% Variable.

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: erin@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @Erin_Lindsay17.


Image via iStock.