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Published: May 28, 2021 6 min read
Forgetful man stands atop a giant asterisk representing a secret pin number that he has forgotten.
Rangely Garcia / Money

So you forgot your PIN.

Maybe you've been relying on your credit card because of the stronger protections and rewards it offers compared to your debit card. Maybe you all but stopped shopping IRL because of the pandemic. Or maybe your brain yeeted it out of your memory for no reason.

Regardless, you're PIN-less, annoyed and asking, why do we need PINs, anyway? And why do financial institutions make them so hard to change?

Well, there's a good reason. Paul Benda, senior vice president for operational risk and cybersecurity at the American Bankers Association, says a PIN — formally, a personal identification number — is the authenticator that makes sure the person who’s using the card is legit.

“It’s kind of like your fingerprint on your phone or the pattern you use to unlock your phone,” Benda says. “It ensures that whoever holds that item is the one authorized to use it.”