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Chip-Card on Their Shoulders

Swipe? Insert? Wave? How to Master the New EMV Chip Credit/Debit Cards

Remember when ATMs slowly pulled in our bankcards, with no guarantee they'd pop out at the end of our transaction? Then banks switched, allowing us to hang on to those cards while we "dipped" them into slots. And stores followed suit with swipe machines that gave us uninterrupted possession of our cards.

And with that control came . . . confusion: Do I leave the card in the slot? Do I need to enter a PIN? Do I need to sign?

Just when we figured it out, here comes the latest technology: Cards equipped with EMV chips ("EMV" standing for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) to encrypt transaction data, helping prevent fraud. But hackers and thieves aren't the only ones trying to figure them out.

Here are some tales from the checkout counter, as customers try to master the new EMV cards. Learn from their experiences, and you just may become pros at using your own new chip-embedded plastic.

Knowing When to Dip

By the registers at a Target store in Farmingdale, N.Y., on a January morning, multiple customers are swiping their cards the old-fashioned way. [Target is part of Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a merchant payment network that Chase is partnering with.] But then they realize—either on their own or through cashier intervention—that they're using a chip-equipped EMV card. The new card method requires you to briefly park your plastic into a slot in the bottom front of the device. There are a few secrets to using the card properly. Knowing when to swipe and when to dip is just the start. (If you aren't sure what to do, ask the cashier or just swipe your card the old fashioned way. Most machines will prompt you with directions on what to do.) "I always swipe mine when I'm supposed to use the chip," admits credit card user Christina Lemmey. "The first time I used it, I put it in the wrong way." Lori Herman, a cashier for an upscale department store, knows that firsthand: “The readout says, 'Insert chip,' but people put the card in the wrong way and get annoyed that it doesn't work."

Another misstep: Sue E. Maxwell, a credit card user from New Jersey, recalls, "My EMV card wouldn't read the first time I used it because I wouldn't let go. I have to remind myself to leave it there without touching it." Shoppers also need to keep in mind: You don't need to jam the card into the machine. "You just have to insert it lightly until you hear a click," says Maureen Ozdemir, a Target employee who works the customer service desk.

Is This Thing On?

Remembering to dip rather than swipe isn't the only challenge. "Some stores take the chip, some don't," says credit card user Rob Martin. "Other places have the card readers but they don't work," he adds. "And now you have to remember to take your card out."

This, Martin learned the hard way, having once left his card behind in a machine—despite the alerts, which blare like a telephone busy signal. Then there's the mother with a sleeping infant. She first tries handing her card to the cashier, then tries swiping it through the terminal several times. Finally, she parks it in the EMV slot—only to nearly leave the card behind when she's done.

The Power Users

The new technology has divided credit card users sharply into two camps: those who "get it" and those who, well, need a bit more practice. "I was at a store and this lady was getting annoyed at me because I couldn't figure out the chip and was holding up the line," says Jennifer Garcia, a mom from West Babylon, N.Y., initially in need of EMV assistance. While we often hear about the stereotype of seniors who don't understand the latest technology, Larry Lowig's success with card readers seems to bust that myth. The 67-year-old retired computer expert says he caught on quickly. "I have no idea why people have trouble. We're used to swiping, but this is easier and more secure."

Another credit card user, Yinping Jung, is similarly baffled by the chip-challenged. "I don't understand why people have problems. It's quite clear if you read the instructions," she says. "It tells you, 'Do not remove the card.' I guess I'm just a person who follows the rules.

Patience Is a Virtue

Jung is right: Following the prompts will take card users far—as will a little patience from both sides of the register. "If people would just be patient, then 30 seconds after putting the chip in, the process is easier," Herman says. "It's a lot better than having to swipe your card two or three times because it didn't take." Many retail employees say chip cards—when used properly—take less time. "But people feel like it takes longer because there's a different cadence or rhythm to the sale," says Lally. "It's actually faster." Adds Herman. "You just have to know the do's and don'ts."

Some retail employees are optimistic about the potential of EMV cards. "People are starting to realize it's safer and more secure," says Target Farmingdale Guest Services Team Lead Anabela Lynch. "There are still some complaints about it taking more time, and people don't always know if they should be swiping or dipping, but they are getting it." Employees like Lynch, who are happy to guide credit card users through the process as many times as it takes, make it clear: There's no reason for anyone to have a chip on their shoulder in this new era of currency.

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