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Do Credit Cards Have PINs? Everything You Need to Know

Do Credit Cards Have PINs?
Alyssa Schwartz

Alyssa Schwartz

Updated February 11, 2022
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
As anyone who pays with plastic already knows, credit cards have a lot of numbers. But what they might not realize is that there’s yet another important one to know about — and it doesn’t even appear on the card itself. It’s called a credit card PIN.Most users of debit cards are already familiar with PIN codes. While these short strings of numbers are not always required for credit card purchases in the U.S., they are needed for certain types of transactions. And there are also other instances where credit card PINs may be useful — or even necessary.For anyone who’s ever wondered whether credit cards have PINs or when they’re needed, here’s the lowdown.

What Is a Credit Card PIN?

First, the basics: The word PIN is an acronym that stands for personal identification number. Most people encounter the need for a PIN code at some point, whether to use a debit card, as a security layer for an online or phone service or elsewhere.The concept of credit card PINs is similar to other types of PINs. A credit card PIN is a unique identifier that only the cardholder knows. In certain instances, they may be asked to provide this number in order to prove that they are the authorized credit card user.However, because PINs are used on a relatively limited basis in the U.S. for credit cards compared to elsewhere, even those with a good idea of how credit cards work may have some questions about PIN codes.While the number of digits in a PIN may vary depending on who issues it and the type of account it is used for, credit card PINs are usually four digits long. These numbers may be randomly assigned by the credit card issuers or selected by the cardholder. (Even if the PIN is assigned by the bank, it can usually be changed, if desired, to one the cardholder can easily remember.)

What Is the Purpose of a PIN?

Just like other types of PINs, a credit card PIN is a numerical code that is used for security purposes to help make sure that the person attempting to make a transaction is the authorized cardholder.For those up on all the credit card terms to know, it’s worth noting that while a PIN is used for security, it’s not the same as the credit card security code or CVV (card verification code). That’s the three- (sometimes four-) digit code on the back of the card that often needs to be supplied to complete an e-commerce transaction.The credit card PIN is a different number altogether, although it is yet another method that is used to verify the cardholder’s identity in order to authorize certain transactions.

Why You Might Need a Credit Card PIN

If the concept of credit card PINs is unfamiliar, that’s because most types of purchases made with credit cards in the U.S. don’t require the use of PINs.While credit cards are typically embedded with EMV (short for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) chips, most credit card transactions in the U.S. are so-called “chip and signature.” With EMV chips, a merchant will use a chip reader to validate the data embedded in the security chip on a credit card. As an added measure, they’ll also require the cardholder’s signature to authorize a purchase.However, there are instances where credit card companies will require a chip and PIN to authorize a transaction. In such instances, the cardholder would enter their PIN into a keypad instead of signing for a purchase.Here are some common instances where a credit card PIN may be required to complete a transaction.

1. Getting Cash Advances

Merchants may not require a cardholder’s PIN code, but ATMs do — so credit card users will generally need their PIN in order to get a cash advance from a machine. That said, it may still be possible to get a cash advance without a PIN, but this may require government-issued ID and a visit to an actual physical bank and teller.(One thing to note: To avoid credit card statement surprises, don’t forget that cash advances may be charged a different rate of interest, and on a different basis, than other purchases made by credit card.)

2. Making Purchases in Foreign Countries

Chip or EMV cards are far more common abroad than they are in the U.S. For example, in Britain and parts of Europe, as many as 86.50% of credit cards and 99.56% of transactions are made using chip technology, compared to just 63% of cards and 77.52% of transactions in the U.S., marking a notable difference in how credit card payments work.This widespread adoption means that chip and PIN transactions are also more common in other countries than they are in the U.S. When chip and PIN is required, the cardholder would have to insert their card into a card reader and then enter their PIN to make a transaction. While it may be possible for a merchant to override this requirement, in some instances — such as at automated kiosks — that may not be possible. In such cases, the purchase would not be authorized in the absence of the cardholder’s PIN.It’s worth noting that although EMV technology is used to enable contactless credit card payments, such as tap payments, these no-touch transactions may not require a PIN.

How Do You Get a Credit Card PIN?

The procedure for obtaining a credit card PIN will vary depending on the credit card issuer. Many banks send out a PIN automatically after an individual opens a new credit card account. For security purposes, the PIN is typically mailed in a separate envelope and does not arrive together with the credit card.It may also be possible to set up a PIN online, over the phone or in person at a branch.Even if a card issuer does not typically provide PINs, some credit cards do still have PIN capacity — meaning the cardholder can request that their PIN be enabled.

Is a Credit Card PIN Safe?

The purpose of a credit card PIN is to add an additional layer of security to the transaction at hand. By requiring the card user to provide the numerical code that only the authorized user should know, this can confirm that the individual is indeed authorized to use the card.In fact, a credit card PIN is often requested in conjunction with another layer of security, such as your card’s chip.

Compare Credit Card Options With Lantern

Security features such as PIN codes, interest rates, perks and rewards — there’s a lot to consider when choosing a credit card. You can compare the credit card options and even find out your chance of credit card pre-approval by visiting Lantern by SoFi.
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Frequently Asked Questions

How does a credit card PIN work?
How do you get a PIN for your credit card?
Can you use a credit card without a PIN?

About the Author

Alyssa Schwartz

Alyssa Schwartz

Alyssa Schwartz is a freelance writer who writes about personal finance, lifestyle, and other topics.
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