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When I opened my first checking account, the bank asked if I wanted a free design to decorate the accompanying debit card. Naturally, I chose the cutest option: a World Wildlife Foundation photo of a fluffy panda peeking over a log.
And so for 15 years, I had a panda card. This was useful — my black-and-white bear buddy was always easy to spot behind the bar or floating around in my purse — and fun. I stood out; it was a conversion starter. It became part of my identity…
…until I lost the card this summer. I had to sheepishly request a replacement, and imagine my devastation when the new one arrived plain and panda-less. (Turns out Bank of America discontinued its WWF partnership.)
I miss having a unique card. I’ve found vinyl decals online that I could use to turn my new one into a Pokemon card (hilarious), or — at the very least — I feel like I could slap a few small stickers on there. This isn’t unprecedented: Credit card hackers often use label makers to help them remember which card they should use in different scenarios to maximize rewards.
But as much as I want a pretty card, I also want to, y’know, buy stuff.
Can I put stickers on my credit card?
I hopped on the phone with Jack Jania, vice president of product management and innovation at CPI Card Group. He says there are three major factors to consider here: 1) what the stickers in question are made of, 2) how thick the stickers are, and 3) where on the card I place them.
“The devil is in the details,” he says.
First, the material. While a traditional printed-paper or vinyl sticker may be fine, a metallic one could confuse the tiny antenna in my card that makes contactless payments possible.
Because “tap and go” payments are quickly becoming the norm in the U.S. — data from the Federal Reserve shows that contactless card payments grew fivefold between 2018 and 2020, and that was before the pandemic started — this is something I definitely want to avoid.
Next, I should consider the sticker's height.
Credit cards aren’t all the same size on accident; there’s an actual group called the International Organization for Standardization that declares how big they can be. According to those standards, payment cards must be 0.76 millimeters, or 0.03 inches, thick.
ATMs around the world are, therefore, built to accommodate cards that are 0.03 inches thick. If I put a super-puffy sticker on my card that makes it taller than this, Jania — also a member of the International Card Manufacturers Association — says it might not fit in the slot. Worse, if I’m at an ATM that retracts my card, it could get stuck inside the machine.
“They have gear mechanisms in there that may be fouled by the sticker,” he says.
I could have a similar issue with point-of-sale terminals. If I try to insert my puffy-stickered card into a payment terminal and it’s too thick, it could prevent the card from adequately contacting the internal mechanism that reads the chip, says Andy Cease, marketing director of instant financial issuance at Entrust.
What I really need to be careful not to do is put my sticker over the chip. Jania says that inside payment machines, there are tiny pins that come down and literally touch the chip in order to read it and process a transaction. If the chip is covered by a sticker, this obviously can’t happen.
Heather Harmon, formerly the director of instant issuance and client management at Fiserv, says to also avoid covering my name, the card number and the magnetic stripe. Ditto the expiration date and CVV code — if I can’t read these, then I’m screwed for online shopping.
Harmon says that while putting stickers on my card “can be done,” she doesn’t recommend it. Jania, too.
And Cease admits that, yeah, my bank probably won’t love it.
“They view these cards as a mini billboard that their consumers carry around with them every day and transact on,” he says, explaining that covering the card with stickers means they lose that real estate. “Their preference probably wouldn’t be that there’s a sticker affixed to it.”
The bottom line
I can put stickers on my card but not willy-nilly. I need to be careful to avoid metallic stickers, make sure they’re not too thick and be sure that the chip is uncovered.
Time to express myself… or maybe just check to see if my bank offers more legit ways to customize the design.
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