Does freezing an EMV credit card destroy it?

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A recent caller to the Clark’s radio show had a great question, but I found Clark’s answer to be a little incomplete. The caller was referring to Clark’s old trick of putting a credit card in a bag of water and freezing it in order to fight the temptation of using it. The caller asked if using this trick on a brand new credit card equipped with an EMV computer chip would damage the card.

This is a great question because people who work with computer chips for a living spend quite a bit of energy making sure the chips will never be exposed to water. In addition to the possibility of water damage, the shrinking and expanding that freezing and thawing cause could also damage something as delicate as a computer chip. Did the good folks who design credit cards consider the possibility of Clark Howard listeners dropping their cards into bags of water and shoving them in the freezer and decide to make them waterproof?

Clark’s answer to the caller was that he had never heard of this being a problem, so it was probably OK. Such a great question requires a little better of an answer than that in my opinion. There are times in life when one finds themselves dependent on a credit card because not having the ability to pay for a good or service at a critical time could leave one stranded. We need a more definitive answer to the question of “Does freezing EMV cards destroy them?”…so I decided I would test this out myself.

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Wait, why would I want to freeze a credit card?

For those not familiar with the credit card in a bag of ice trick, the idea is to help you fight the temptation of using the credit card unnecessarily. When your credit card is frozen in ice, you won’t be able to use it right away.

If there is something you decide you want to buy, you aren’t able to run to the store and buy it right away. Instead, you have to take your frozen credit card out of the freezer and let it thaw for a few hours. During those few hours you have a little time to think about your potential purchase. Is this something you really need?

If you don’t really need this purchase then hopefully those few hours will give you a little time to think twice before spending the money. If it still seems like a great idea after a couple hours, chances are it’s not such a bad purchase after all.

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The experiment

I found one of my credit cards is equipped both with the traditional magnetic strip and an EMV chip so I filled up a sandwich bag with water, dropped the card in, and threw the bag into the freezer. I let the water freeze solid, then I pulled it out and let it thaw overnight.

The next day I took the card to make a few purchases to test it out. The only local store I know of that actually uses EMV is a warehouse club. First I stopped at the warehouse club’s gas station. The gas pumps can’t read EMV cards, only the magnetic strip. I swiped the magnetic strip through the card reader and it worked just like normal.


That was reassuring, but I was expecting the magnetic strip to work all along so I headed into the club for the real test. I grabbed a couple of grocery items and headed to the self checkout line. I nervously inserted my card chip first into the EMV reader and….

Does freezing an EMV credit card destroy it?

Success! It worked! How silly of me to doubt Clark in the first place. I walked by the snack counter on the way out, and it occurred to me that I should test my card out one more time, just to be extra safe. I purchased a slice of pizza for $1.50 (for the purposes of science only, you understand) and inserted the chip into the reader one more time. The chip worked again just as well as it ever had. I guess that proves the theory that freezing an EMV chip in ice won’t necessarily destroy it.

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Better safe than sorry

Even though this experiment proved an EMV chip could survive being frozen, it did not prove that every EMV chip will survive being frozen every time. My card was only frozen a couple of hours. Would it have still worked if it had been frozen for a couple of months or a couple of years? I can’t guarantee I know the answer to that question.

Just to be on the safe side, I would recommend you be a little careful with an EMV chip that has been frozen. Before you put yourself in a position where you only have one form of payment on you and need some money to get home you should probably test your card out for yourself just to be 100% sure it works.

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