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What is contactless payment?

Make purchases while limiting contact with payment terminals.

Updated

Fact checked
Contactless payments can be a simple and convenient way to pay at stores. They can also be helpful if you’d rather limit physical contact with payment terminals or other surfaces. And there’s almost always no need to sign a receipt or input a PIN to authorize a transaction.

Contactless payment defined

Contactless payment is a purchase method that works by holding a debit card, credit card or mobile wallet above a payment terminal. You don’t need to swipe or dip your card — hence “contactless.”

A contactless payment doesn’t require a PIN or signature. However, to combat fraud, issuers or merchants may set a maximum amount per contactless transaction — for example, $30 to $100.

Contactless payments during coronavirus concerns

The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised caution when handling cash, stating that handling money could lead to the transference of germs. Contactless forms of payment can be an alternative to cut down on the transmission of the virus, according to WHO.

Learn more in our news post about WHO recommendations.

How do I use contactless payment?

If you see a wave symbol on your card, you’re all set to start using contactless payments. When you’re checking out at the store, look to see if contactless payments are allowed with this symbol:

Credit cards with contactless payment

Next, take out your contactless credit or debit card and hold it above the symbol.

Or add your card to a mobile wallet — such as Apple Pay or Google Pay. When you’re ready to check out, hold your mobile wallet above the payment terminal and authorize the transaction with biometric authentication, if needed.

Our pick for contactless payment

Citi® Double Cash Card

  • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
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How to get contactless payment

Two main ways to access contactless payments:

  • Get a credit or debit card that’s equipped with contactless technology.
  • Add your credit or debit card to a mobile wallet.

For many years, contactless cards were relatively uncommon. But in late 2018 and early 2019, providers began issuing many more cards with contactless technology.

One easy way to tell if a card offers contactless payments is by looking for a wave symbol on the front or back of your card.

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Which credit cards have contactless payment?

Chase and American Express offer the most contactless options. Here’s a list of many credit cards that include this technology.

Credit cardIssuer
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Chase
Chase Freedom Flex℠Chase
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardChase
Chase Sapphire Reserve®Chase
Chase Slate® credit cardChase
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit CardChase
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit CardChase
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit CardChase
United℠ Explorer CardChase
United Gateway℠ CardChase
United MileagePlus® Club cardChase
British Airways Visa Signature® CardChase
Aer Lingus Visa Signature® Credit CardChase
Iberia Visa Signature® cardChase
The World of Hyatt Credit CardChase
Starbucks Rewards™ Visa® CardChase
AARP® Credit Card from ChaseChase
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressAmerican Express
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressAmerican Express
American Express® Gold CardAmerican Express
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressAmerican Express
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® CardAmerican Express
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® CardAmerican Express
Hilton Honors™ Aspire CardAmerican Express
Hilton Honors American Express CardAmerican Express
American Express Cash Magnet® CardAmerican Express
American Express® Business Gold CardAmerican Express
The Hilton Honors American Express Business CardAmerican Express
Amazon Business Prime American Express CardAmerican Express
Amazon Business American Express CardAmerican Express
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardCapital One
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit CardCapital One
Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit CardCapital One
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit CardCapital One
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit CardCapital One
Citi Rewards+℠ CardCiti
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by CitiCiti
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® CardWells Fargo
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® CardWells Fargo
Wells Fargo Visa Signature® CardWells Fargo
Wells Fargo Rewards® CardWells Fargo
Wells Fargo Platinum CardWells Fargo
Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ CardWells Fargo
Wells Fargo Secured Credit CardWells Fargo

Compare credit cards with contactless payment

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
2% at US gas stations and select US department stores, 3% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
$0
Get 3% cash back on groceries on up to $6,000 annually (then 1%) with no annual fee. This is a simple and effective rewards card. Rates & fees
Chase Freedom Flex℠
5% back in rotating categories up to $1,500 combined each activated quarter (then 1%), 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable)
$0
Get up to 5% cashback in rotating and newly added everyday categories. The refreshed Freedom Flex card has lots of earning potential.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
15.99% to 22.99% variable
$95
Earn a huge signup bonus worth $$1,000 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
N/A
0% intro for the first 18 months (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable)
$0
An impressive 18 months intro APR on balance transfers and purchases, as well as no annual fee make this one of the top 0% APR cards available.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 5% on Lyft, 3% on dining and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable)
$0
This solid 1.5% cashback card gets even better with the addition of up to 5% back in categories like travel, drug stores and dining.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Types of contactless payments: PayWave, PayPass and Expresspay

Choose from Visa’s PayWave, Mastercard’s PayPass or American Express’s Expresspay to pay for everyday purchases without your physical card touching anything.

Each features NFC technology that makes contactless payment possible. Sometimes called tap-and-go, you can either wave or tap your credit card at contactless terminals without keying in your PIN or signing a receipt.

What are the pros and cons of PayWave, PayPass and Expresspay?

Pros

  • Use your card or phone to “tap and pay” without keying in a PIN or signing a receipt.
  • Protection against fraudulent transactions provides peace of mind.
  • Data encryption reduces the threat of hackers scanning cards and stealing valuable information.
  • Fast connection without worry of incorrectly typing in your PIN.
  • Retailers no longer have access to your credit card information.
  • Track and use points or miles for purchases at retailers and sites. Some banks offer additional cash back and perks with this feature.
  • Convenient and quick checkout payments mean faster transactions.

Cons

  • Technology limited to consumers with smartphones or those with PayWave, PayPass or Expresspay credit cards.
  • If you lose your credit card, your account could be compromised.
  • Terminal at risk of spyware or malware attacks, as with any other computer device.
  • You can’t change or choose the transaction limit enforced by your bank.

Contactless payments via mobile wallets

You might already have access to the largest mobile wallets in the US: Apple Pay,Google Payor Samsung Pay.

Add your credit card information to your mobile wallet, then use it for contactless payments without having to pull out your debit or credit card. And because mobile wallets often come with biometric authentication — think fingerprints and face recognition — it’s more difficult for fraudsters to steal your information.

Examples of mobile wallets

Mobile wallets include:

  • Apple Pay
  • Google Pay
  • Samsung Pay
  • Fitbit Pay
  • Garmin Pay
  • PayPal

Mobile wallets are often limited by device. Apple Pay works on Apple products only, for example.

How does contactless payment work?

Contactless payments run on near-field communication — or NFC — technology embedded in mobile devices and credit cards.

Near field communication imageNFC is a technology that enables your mobile phone to securely transmit and receive information over a short range of about 4 centimeters. It’s an upgrade of existing radio-frequency identification (RFID), which combines the interface of a smartcard and a reader into a single device.

I’m a small business owner. Should I get a contactless payment system?

Updating your card reader to one that offers contactless payments provides your customers with faster and more convenient card processing.

However, upgrading might require upfront fees and training to get used to the new system. Compare solutions for merchant services and weigh the potential benefits against costs to decide if contactless payments are right for your business.

Eddit Grobler

Eddie Grobler

  • Australasia divisional president at Mastercard
  • Former SVP at Mastercard Southern Africa

Here’s what Eddie says about PayPass and contactless payments:

  • “PayPass is a fast, convenient and safe way to pay for purchases of less than $100 and involves a simple tap of a card against a contactless reader, making it ideal for use when customers would generally use cash.”
  • “Contactless is the way to make and accept payments — it’s quicker and more convenient for consumers and allows merchants to accept more payments at peak sales times. It helps reduce the delays caused by queuing or searching for change and, with consumers already noticing the benefits, we believe it will be available across a large number of retailers in the next couple of years.”

    Bottom line

    Contactless payments are a convenient way to pay for purchases by tapping your credit card or waving your phone. Look for banks that work with Apple Pay or Google Pay to find a card with this technology.

    Frequently asked questions

    Eddie Grobler image: nfcworld.com
    NFC image: nxp.com

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