Contactless Payments and Limits Explained

Contactless payments make daily transactions easier by allowing you to hover your card or device over the payment terminal. Here, we look at what a contact payment is, how contactless payments work, the current contactless payment limit, and the pros and cons of contactless payments.

Rebecca Goodman Published on 08 December 2020. Last updated on 15 October 2021.
Contactless Payments and Limits Explained

Contactless payments can be made by tapping or waving a device, usually a bank card or smartphone, over a payment terminal. It’s a lot quicker to pay this way, and many businesses were only accepting contactless payments during the coronavirus outbreak. According to UK Finance, the banking trade association, in 2020 83% of people used contactless payment.

Here, we look at what you need to know about contactless payments and contactless payment limits.

What is a contactless payment?

Instead of paying with cash or using a debit or credit card and entering a personal identification number (PIN), contactless payments use a different sort of technology.

Lots of businesses now allow contactless payments. There will usually be a sign by the till that tells you whether contactless payment is an option. Generally, you will be able to use it in most places where you are also able to use a card and PIN machine. In some cities, such as London, you can also use contactless payments on public transport.

How does contactless payment work?

Within all contactless cards there is a radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near field communication (NFC) chip. When the card is held over a payment terminal, it picks up a signal from the chip and processes the payment.

It’s not just cards, either. Most smartphones are enabled with contactless technology, and many wearable devices can be used for contactless payments, including smart key fobs, wristbands and watches.

What is the limit for contactless payments?

In its 2021 Budget, the government announced that the contactless payment limit for a single transaction would rise from £45 to £100, a change that comes into effect from 15 October 2021.

It may take time for some retailers to make the changes to enable them to take payments at the higher limit.

The contactless limit for multiple transactions is £300, an increase from £130, so if you reach this level you will be asked to enter your PIN.

What is the limit per day for contactless payments?

Currently, there is not a limit on how much you can spend in total on your contactless payment in a day. However, to protect from fraud, your provider may ask you to re enter your PIN now and again manually.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of contactless payment?

Although contactless payment is common, it’s good to be aware of the pros and cons.

Pros

The main benefit of contactless payments is the speed they take to process. They also mean you don’t need to enter your PIN every time.

There are lots of extra security measures with contactless payments, including a limit of £100 per transaction and a limit on the number of transactions you can make before you’re asked to enter your PIN.

And if you’re using a device like your smartphone to pay, you could leave your wallet and cards at home.

Cons

There are risks with contactless cards and devices. If your card is stolen, for example, someone else might start using it to buy things without needing to know your PIN.

If this happens, you’ll need to report the card stolen as soon as you find out. The sooner you do this, the better the chance of getting all your money back.

How long do contactless payments take to process?

This depends on your bank and the retailer, but contactless payments are usually instant. When you hold your card or device over the terminal, there should be a green light or a beep to signal the payment has been successful.

A receipt may not be automatically issued, but you can tell a member of staff you’d like one.

What happens if a contactless payment is declined?

If your contactless payment is declined, you should know this instantly as well. It may be that you need to put your card in the machine and enter your PIN as part of a security check from your bank.

It’s also not possible for contactless card readers to make more than one transaction at a time, because each transaction needs to be completed or voided before another can take place. The current limit is five transactions in a row. After that, you’ll need to input your card into the machine and enter your pin.

Do I have to take the card out of my wallet to make a contactless payment?

If you’re tapping your wallet or cardholder on a terminal, the payment should come off just one card — but it might not happen from the card you think. Therefore, it’s worth taking out the card you want to pay with and tap it on the terminal.

How to set up contactless payment

Most banks and building societies automatically issue contactless cards now. If you don’t have one yet, you will need to contact them to ask for one. This can be in person, on the phone, or via online banking. Your bank should be able to post one out to you.

There should be no fees for paying with contactless or for requesting a contactless card.

What if I don’t want a contactless card?

If you are not keen on having a contactless card, some providers will allow you to opt out or to switch to a transaction limit of less than £100. Contact your bank or building society to check whether it is something it can do.

Image source: Getty Images

About the author:

Rebecca Goodman is a freelance journalist who has spent the past 10 years working across personal finance publications. Regularly writing for The Guardian, The Sun, The Telegraph, and The Independent. Read more

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