Every credit card, no matter how fancy, has an expiration date. But what to do with expired credit cards — especially those hefty metal ones?
We’ve all probably seen some haughty salesperson in a movie or television show contemptuously cut a maxed-out card to bits. But your handy kitchen shears may not be up to the task for all cards. Nor are a few quick cuts always the safest way to dispose of a financial tool, regardless of its status.
Here’s how to dispose of a credit card so no one can fetch it from the dumpster to make mischief, which really does happen.
What to do before you dispose of a credit card
Whether you have an expired credit card or are canceling your card, don’t plot its destruction right away. It’s good to take a few steps to ensure that there won’t be any outstanding issues with your credit card account.
For instance, if your old credit card has expired, be sure to activate your replacement card before disposing of the expired credit card. If you’re canceling the card altogether, you’ll need to take a few extra steps:
- Pay off any outstanding balance — Canceling a card doesn’t get you off the hook for paying the remaining balance. Pay in full before you close the account.
- Use or transfer your rewards — Any credit card rewards that remain in your account will likely disappear once you close that account. Redeem your cash back or points before cancelling a credit card.
- Close the account — For this, contact your issuer. Canceling a card typically requires a phone call, but some issuers may let you do it online.
- Notify other users — Any authorized cardholders on your account need to know their cards will no longer be valid. It’s good to suggest that they destroy their cards, too.
- Modify/cancel automatic payments — We all like convenience, and automatic payments through a card are common these days. If you have any set up with your soon-to-be former credit card, port them to another means of payment.
Once you’ve made sure you won’t need the canceled or expired credit card for anything else, it’s time to put it out of your misery. The best method depends mostly on the card’s material.
Destroying a plastic credit card
Whether you’re closing an account or putting an expired credit card out to pasture, you’ll have to do the fun work of rendering it useless. After all, even with a canceled product, you want to be 100% sure it’s unusable.
Step one in destroying an expired credit card is to take out its brain. If you have an old card with a magnetic strip, use a strong magnet to demagnetize the strip on the back of the card. Chips are a bit tougher to neutralize. You can cut chips with a pair of scissors, or even break them apart with a hammer.
Hold on to that pair of scissors — the next move is to cut the card into at least three pieces. If you’re having trouble cutting through the plastic, try bending it back and forth a few times to weaken it, then cut along the bend. It’s wise to dispose of each piece in a different garbage can, so they’re harder for someone to find and piece back together.
If you’re not keen on the manual method, try your paper shredder. Many modern shredders have a small slot for payment card destruction. Ideally, use a cross-cutting shredder, but any type works. As with manually cut cards, dispose of your expired credit card confetti in a few different places for extra security.
Over the last few years, many luxury and travel rewards cards have taken to metal rather than plastic, a la the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and American Express Platinum® cards. While certainly impressive, these fancy cards have one major drawback: Your scissors won’t leave a dent.
Not only are standard household scissors not up to the task, your home paper shredder can’t gobble them up (just trust us on this one). If you’re determined to slice and dice your metal card, try tin snips or other specialized metal shears from the hardware store. But there’s an easier way.
Most issuers of metal credit cards dispose of your expired credit cards for you. Just mail the card to the issuer and your job is done. If your card issuer has physical bank branches, such as Chase or Capital One, you can usually hand off your expired credit card to a teller in the branch.
How not to destroy an expired credit card
Nearly any way to cut up your old credit card can be effective, but employ appropriate safety equipment if you’re using anything more extreme than a pair of scissors. One thing you should absolutely avoid is trying to melt or burn your canceled or expired credit card.
Why? One word: fumes.
Plastic credit cards are made of, well, plastic, and burning plastic releases all kinds of nasty toxins. Inhaling these fumes can cause serious damage to your respiratory system. Stick to other methods to destroy your expired credit card.