As debit and credit cards replace cash in most transactions, the risks to consumers increase. While a cash theft is limited to the amount carried at the time of the crime, debit cards are tied directly into a victim’s bank account, and safeguards at the point of sale are often insufficient to prevent access to the compromised account.

Convenience is another key issue, as multiple interchangeable debit and credit cards can be difficult to track. Fortunately, programmable credit cards can overcome many of these hurdles, bringing innovative levels of security and convenience to the purchasing experience.

Programmable cards look much like their static counterparts, with most of their additions beneath the waterproof plastic surface. A series of buttons on the front allow passcode entry for increased security, or facilitate switching the card between several linked accounts. The magnetic strip on the card’s back is instantly reprogrammable, and the card is powered by a battery with a lifespan of four years.

Programmable credit cards are more secure. When locked, the embedded magnetic strip contains an invalid code that will not scan. In order to be of any use, the customer must first enter a unique passcode using the keys on the card’s front. Anyone who steals the card without knowing this passcode simply has a useless piece of plastic. Even the number is not displayed, rendering the card useless for online transactions. Since these enjoy none of the security checks of physical points of sale, programmable credit cards effectively counter the largest risk of credit card theft.

Programmable credit cards can also store more than one account. Consumers can store personal and corporate accounts on a single card, or can keep all consumer cards in a single place. Programmable cards are not limited to credit accounts, however. Any card with a magnetic strip can be stored, including most customer reward cards.

Programmable credit cards are a unique technology not only for their benefit to consumers, but also due to their compatibility with existing systems. Rare is the technological leap that brings massive value to one participant in an interaction while requiring few or no changes for another. For instance, Near Field Communication is poised to revolutionize payments entirely by replacing cash or credit cards with phones, but these technologies require custom point-of-sale hardware. Programmable credit cards work well with 40-year-old magnetic readers, and sales staff require no additional training in their use.

As with any other new technology, its method of adoption is key to its success. While this universal remote of credit cards seems like a great consumer product, it appears to be experiencing initial distribution by banks and other financial institutions. In particular, Citibank is performing a trial run of a programmable card that allows exchanging rewards points for cash. With any luck, versions of such cards that are programmable by consumers themselves will soon be available. Furthermore, these cards use the same magnetic strip made via ID card printers. These two technologies might one day converge, providing the ability to create more than just credit or reward cards.

Programmable credit cards offer customers increased security and greater convenience in a package that is compatible with existing sales hardware. This powerful combination poises these rewritable cards as a technology which is sure to transform how payments are made.


Steve Stoltz is a sales representative at, a Plastic Card Printer retailer that sells high quality, pre-printed custom gift cards. 


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