After massive security breaches at Target and PF Chang’s, Americans are more interested in using credit cards with EMV smart chips.
These chips, visible as a small silver or gold metal square on the face of the card, let you complete transactions in the most secure way possible. They’re compatible with the next generation of credit card readers already used in Europe, Canada, and many parts of the world.
My own interest in having an EMV credit card started on a trip to Italy. I couldn’t use my credit card to buy a subway ticket from an automated kiosk in Milan. I had to walk several blocks to the main train station and wait in line to buy a ticket from a human who could process my American card with its outdated magnetic strip. Later, I met some American tourists who couldn’t refuel their rental car at a gas station, because the pumps would only work with EMV credit cards.
Thankfully, the American credit card industry is quickly catching up, and there are now several cards with EMV smart chips. Here are my five favorites…
While most EMV-equipped cards use the so-called chip and signature system, Barclaycard is currently the only major American card issuer using the chip and PIN system that’s most popular in Europe. Most chip-and-signature cards will work most of the time, but having a four-digit PIN is not only safer, it guarantees your card is compatible overseas. This is also an excellent rewards card, since it offers double miles on all purchases, and each mile is worth 1 cent each as a statement credit toward any travel expense. The $89 annual fee is waived the first year.
Once your card has an EMV chip, the next most important feature is no foreign transaction fees. These ridiculous fees charge you for the privilege of using your card outside the United States, even though it rarely costs your credit card company anything for the transaction. This is the only major bank card with an EMV chip, no foreign transaction fees, and no annual fee as well. You also receive 1.5 points per dollar spent, which is a good rate of return for a card with no annual fee.
As long as we are talking about the “best” cards and not the most affordable ones, this one has to make the list. It offers a huge number of benefits (including airport lounge access and airline fee waivers) along with an EMV chip and no foreign transaction fees. But the $450 annual fee is a deal-breaker for most folks. You need to use a lot of the benefits to make this worthwhile.
This is an amazing card offered by the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. It has no fees for anything, including annual fees, foreign transaction fees, cash advance fees, and even late fees. They will even send you a version equipped with an EMV smart chip — but only upon request.
Until chip-compatible card readers are widely deployed in the United States, the point of having an EMV chip is travel. This card offers double points on all travel expenses and has no foreign transaction fees. Points can then be transferred directly to several airline and hotel loyalty programs. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.