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Do Credit Cards Expire If You Don't Use Them?

All credit cards have an expiration date, but what does this really mean? When do credit cards expire, and does it depend on how often you use them?

February 22, 2022

Somewhere on most credit cards, you’ll typically find an expiration date – something that looks like 05/25. In fact, many merchants will ask you to enter this date when you make a purchase online. 

But what does the expiration date really mean? Will the card expire even if you use it actively? And when do credit cards typically expire?

This article will explain everything you need to know about credit card expiration dates.

When do credit cards expire? 

Each credit card will have an expiration date printed directly on it — usually on the front, although some newer cards list the expiration date on the back. 

The expiration date is usually listed like this:

Valid Thru: 07/26 

This means that the card will expire in July 2026. 

When does a credit card expire within that month, though? In most cases, the card will actually stop working at the end of the listed month. So in this example, the card would remain active until July 31, 2026. 

When you get a new credit card, it will generally have an expiration date that is 3 to 5 years away. This depends on the issuing bank, however. 

If you’re not sure when your card expires, you can contact your credit card issuer to ask. 

What happens when a credit card expires?

When a card expires, it will be replaced by a new card — generally with the same card number.

Expiration doesn’t mean your card is canceled or that the account will be closed. It simply means that the physical card has expired and that you’ll need to switch to using the new one that will be mailed to you. 

In most cases, banks will mail new cards several months before the old card will actually expire. 

Overall, here’s what happens when a credit card expires:

  • The card issuer will mail you a new credit card, usually, several months before the old one expires

  • You’ll need to activate the new card by going online or calling the provided number

  • You can then dispose of your old card by shredding it

  • Your credit card number will stay the same, but the CVV security code and expiration date will change

  • You’ll then update any merchants who have your card on file (like any subscriptions you have) with the new expiration date and CVV

Everything else will stay the same with the account. The account isn’t being closed, and it’ll have no effect on your credit score.

Also, all the terms and details you agreed to originally — your APR, annual fee, credit limit and other details — will remain the same. 

Why do credit cards expire?

You may be wondering, what’s the point? Why would something like a credit card even have an expiration date? 

There are two main reasons for this:

Fraud prevention 

Expiration dates provide one more level of fraud prevention, as the expiration date is needed along with the credit card number in order to make transactions online. So even if a thief obtains your credit card number, they may not have your expiration date — which helps reduce the risk of fraudulent transactions.

Card updates 

Banks frequently add new features and security measures to their cards. For instance, many credit cards have recently been upgraded to contactless payment technology. Having expiration dates on all cards allows banks to more easily upgrade your cards for you as new features are released. 

Do credit cards expire if you don’t use them?

When do credit cards expire if they are inactive? Will a card ever expire before its printed expiration date?

In some cases, credit card issuers may close down credit accounts if they are inactive for a certain period of time. In general, this is after 12+ months of inactivity. Some issuers have a much longer grace period of up to several years. 

So if you have an old credit card that you never use, it’s possible that the issuer may close it. 

This is different from a standard expiration, as the credit account will actually be closed. 

Normally when a card expires, you’ll be sent a new card. But when an account is closed by the issuer, no new card will be sent and the credit account will be shut down. This may have an impact on your credit score

Some banks will send an email or letter warning you that your card will be closed if you don’t use it. Others will simply close the account automatically after a certain period of inactivity.

If you get a warning email or letter, you can simply start using your card again to keep it active. Even making a single small purchase should be sufficient. If your card is closed automatically without warning, there is usually no way to reactivate it without applying for a new credit card. It’s worthwhile to call the card issuer, however, to see what your options are.

Generally speaking, this cancellation process is entirely separate from the expiration process. In other words, the decision of an issuer to cancel your card has nothing to do with the listed expiration date — it’s only related to the activity on the card account. 

To avoid automatic cancellation, it’s a good idea to make a small purchase on all your credit cards once every year or so, and simply pay off the balance immediately. 

Master your money

Want to learn more about credit cards and personal finance? Check out the Tally blog

We have informational resources on paying off debt, mastering credit, and managing your money

And if you have existing credit card debt to pay off, you may wish to look into using Tally†. Tally is a personal finance app offering a lower-interest line of credit that may help qualifying Americans get out of credit card debt faster. Learn how Tally works here

†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.