How to Safely Destroy Your Expired Credit Cards

woman cutting expired credit card

I've been collecting expired credit and debit cards in my desk drawer for awhile, waiting for the right time to pull my scissors out and start cutting. But then I started thinking: most of my cards are embedded with EMV (Europay, Mastercard, and Visa) or RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips. Would the old solution of cutting my cards in half not really cut it when identity theft is so rampant?

I'm glad I did a bit of research before slicing and dicing without a solid plan. It's not enough to cut expired credit and debit cards in half anymore. With credit card fraud on the rise and thieves ever more wily at stealing data, I gathered some card destruction techniques to outwit them.

Here are three things I learned about how to destroy my expired credit and debit cards effectively to protect my personal and financial data, as well as a creative way to keep my cards out of the waste stream:

1. Destroy the Magnetic Strips and Chips on Your Cards

Before you pick up your scissors, get a magnet and run it back and forth over the magnetic strips on the back of your cards. It's not enough to swipe it back and forth once or twice. Exposure time is what demagnetizes the strip versus magnet strength, so even a refrigerator magnet will do the trick if you rub it back and forth for a few minutes. Then the next tool you should pick up is a hammer. Use it to whack each EMV or RFID chip several times; this will destroy the chip and render it unreadable. You: 1, Thief: 0.

2. Cut Your Cards Into Multiple Pieces

Once you've destroyed the magnetic strips and chips on your cards, you've made it unlikely, if not impossible, for thieves to extract your personal and financial information. But come on...don't go half-way on this now. You want to discourage crooks from even trying to piece together your plastic. Cut your cards up into tiny pieces. Cut through the magnetic strip crosswise and length wise, as well as through the chips and any numbers printed on the card. Enlist an older child to help you with the project and let them know they're being very helpful superhero crimefighters!

And did you know that many personal shredders can turn your old credit cards into tiny pieces? Check your owner's manual if your personal shredder can handle the job. You might be pleasantly surprised to not have to use scissors at all! Note: please do not send your metal credit cards through the shredder. Instead, most metal card issuers will ask you to mail the cards back for proper disposal. Give them a call and ask for instructions.

3. Spread the Shred

Whether you cut or shred your plastic cards, make sure you dispose of the remnants in a way that turns piecing your tiny bits of plastic into a fruitless job for wannabe ID thieves. Take half the remnants and throw them into one week's garbage, then hold the rest of the chopped up plastic for the next week's refuse pickup.

But What About Recycling?

The debate on whether or not credit cards can or should be recycled is a complicated one. Identity theft is more likely to occur in a recycling plant simply because plastics are sorted by humans. If you do happen throw an improperly destroyed card in your recycling bin, it has a greater chance of ending up in the wrong hands. Not only that but few curbside recyclers even accept this plastic, so it's likely to get pulled during the sorting process and thrown in the garbage anyway. To top things off, the material used to make credit cards (typically polyvinyl chloride acetate, or PVCA) is difficult to recycle, although there are some specialty recyclers who can handle it. 

Garbage that ends up at the dump is not sorted, although you do run risks of having your curbside garbage searched by thieves for personal and financial information. However, when you know that 27 million tons of plastic ended up in American landfills in 2018, tossing your cards in the garbage doesn't sound like a great idea either.

A solution may be to look for ways to repurpose your expired credit and debit cards around the house if the thought of throwing them in the garbage goes against your values. Once you've destroyed the magnetic strips and security chips, the cards can be used for everything from ice scrapers to guitar picks. Do a search on Google for creative repurposing ideas if you're dead-set against adding more plastic waste into the environment. I decided that's what I'm going to do with my drawer full of soon-to-be hammered and demagnetized expired credit and debit cards.

If you have a drawer full of expired credit and debit cards, how do you plan to destroy them? Let us know in the comment section below.

 

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About Author

Diana Burrell
Diana Burrell

Diana Burrell is the communications manager at Hanscom FCU and edits the MoneyWisdom blog. She has a background in magazine journalism, as well as marketing, advertising, and public relations, and has written over a dozen books. You can reach her at dburrell@hfcu.org.

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