What Happens When You Use an Expired Credit Card?

Image shows someone sliding a credit card into a card reader, but the screen says it's expired. Text reads: "What should you do when your credit card expires? Check your mail—typically, a new card will automatically be sent to you. Activate the new card before using it. Shred your old card to prevent theft."

Image by Bailey Mariner © The Balance 2020

An expired credit card likely will be declined if you attempt to use it. All major credit cards have expiration dates, but some department store credit cards do not. If your credit card does have an expiration date, it is the final month and year when your card will be valid. For example, if your card has an expiration date of December 2022, your card will be valid through the end of that month.

Applies Only to the Card

Expiration dates refer only to the actual cards and not to your credit card account. The terms of your account, including your credit limit and interest rate, remain intact. You're still responsible for making your monthly minimum payments on time each month until your credit card balance is completely repaid.​

Credit card issuers can change the terms of your account, but significant changes typically require 45 days' notice and are not tied to your card's expiration date. By giving cards expiration dates, card issuers can be more certain that cardholders are using current technology and security features.

How to Find Your Credit Card Expiration Date

Your credit card's expiration date is conveniently printed on the front of your card. You'll see a two-digit code for the month and the last two digits of the year. With many credit card issuers, the card expires on the final day of the month the card is set to expire. If you've ever placed a phone or online order, you're probably already familiar with the expiration date because it's required as part of the credit card authorization process.

You don't want your credit card's expiration date to come and go without you realizing it. You can put your expiration date on a calendar to remind yourself when your expiration date is coming, but it's usually two or three years into the future. An alternative is to use a reminder service that lets you set up a future email to yourself. Such services are designed to provide you with a reminder of something happening further into the future than your current calendar.

What Do I Have to Do?

You can watch your email as you approach your credit card expiration date, but most credit card issuers automatically send a new card before your expiration date passes. The envelope will be inconspicuous to help prevent credit card theft, so don't throw it away, assuming it's a marketing letter.

Some subscriptions set to your credit cards, such as newspaper or magazine subscriptions, may continue to go through for a few months after the expiration date. Don't be surprised if you receive a call or email from the service provider asking you to update your card's expiration date to keep your subscription active.

Once you receive your credit card, you'll have to activate it before you can use it. You can call the number on the sticker on the front of the credit card or log into your online account to activate your new card. Check your account details for the exact process available through your card issuer.

Guard Against Theft

Once you activate your new card, shred or cut up the old card to prevent theft or fraudulent purchases from being made with the card. You may even want to toss the cut-up pieces in different trash receptacles so they can't be pieced together.

Your new card will have the same credit card account number, but a new expiration date and security code. If you've set up your credit card for any subscriptions, or one-click payments, you'll need to update your card information on those websites. Otherwise, your subscriptions may be canceled, and purchases declined.

Getting a New Card in Time

If you don't receive a new credit card by the time your expiration date comes, contact your credit card issuer using the number on the back of your old credit card to find out if the card has been mailed. In the meantime, you'll have to use an alternate payment method until you receive a credit card with a new expiration date.

Some credit card companies, such as American Express, will overnight a new card to you—but you need to ask. If you use a digital wallet, your credit card issuer may be able to update your payment information automatically, and you can use your smartphone to continue to make purchases until your new card arrives.