The long, slow demise of credit card signatures starts today

Merchants won’t be required to get your signature, but many will likely still ask for one.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
2 min read
New payment systems like Google Pay, shown here, should eventually kill off signatures.

New payment systems like Google Pay, shown here, should eventually kill off signatures.


The mindless practice of scrawling your signature at checkout will one day vanish, and a major step toward that change starts Friday.

Beginning last year, all four major US payment providers -- Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover -- announced plans to remove the requirement that merchants collect signatures for card transactions. Mastercard, American Express and Discover kicked off that new policy Friday, while Visa will do the same Saturday.

"It is the right time to eliminate an antiquated practice," a Mastercard spokesperson said Friday.

But don't despair if you actually like writing your signature at retail stores, because their ultimate demise will likely take a while. The change is only optional, with merchants, not customers, given the new power to decide whether to get rid of signatures. So, if asked to sign, please don't insist to your next cashier that you no longer need to -- it won't work.

Also, plenty of retailers will likely want to keep signatures, particularly if their workers are paid based on a lot of tips, or they sell pricey items.

Still, the change marks a clear awareness from payment providers that the signature doesn't really work as a strong protector against fraud. I've signed my own signature on a family member's credit card several times in the past and have yet to get fined or arrested for the violation. Plus, with card processing technology improving, thanks to chips embedded in cards and new payment systems like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, the need for a signature isn't nearly as great.

The change is being handled a little differently by each payment provider. For instance, Mastercard, Discover and American Express said they'll let retailers make every kind of card payment optional for a signature, regardless of whether you've got a new chip card or you still swipe. Visa, meanwhile, isn't changing its requirements for payments using a swipe card, but it did relax its policy for chip card and contactless payments like Apple Pay.

Visa noted that over 75 percent of face-to-face transactions using its cards in North America already don't require a signature, thanks to lower-value transactions.

Though you may not notice this change immediately, over time -- as you pay more often using your chip card or thumb or face -- you might realize you haven't been using your signature nearly as often.

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