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Credit card size: why all cards have the same dimensions

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Have you ever wondered why all credit cards are the same size and shape? Yes, the consistency allows you neatly fit them all in your wallet, which is super convenient. However, there are other more crucial reasons credit cards have the dimensions they do.

In this article, we’ll explore the unique standards for credit card size, how they came to be, who decides them, and why they’re essential for processing payments.

Standard credit card dimensions

Are all credit cards the same size? The answer is yes, provided they originate in countries with membership in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

The ISO is a non-governmental organization that develops global standards for various products, services, scientific testing processes, and more. It established the credit card dimensions as they exist today. It’s also responsible for determining standards for credit card security features and card numbering sequences.

ISO standards that specify credit card size are classified under the category ID-1 in international standard ISO/IEC 7810, also commonly known as CR80. The ISO set these dimension requirements in partnership with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in 2003. However, progress toward standardization was already taking place as far back as the 1960s. The most recent update to credit card size standards occurred in 2019.

All financial institutions that issue credit cards in ISO member countries must do so according to the following dimensions:

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Credit card dimensions in cm: 8.56 cm wide by 5.398 cm high

Credit card dimensions in inches: 3.375 inches wide by 2.125 inches high

Credit card dimensions in millimetres: 85.6 mm wide by 53.98 mm high

The CR80 standards also apply to charge cards, prepaid credit cards, debit cards, and various national identification cards, such as driver’s licences.

How thick are credit cards?

Much like size, there’s also a universal standard for how thick a credit card must be. This standard, also dictated by the ISO, requires credit cards to be 0.76 mm thick. It applies to both plastic cards and metal cards.

However, slight variations in thickness are acceptable. These may result from the text on the card (such as the credit card number), which protrudes from the surface, or the materials used in the card’s construction.

But aren’t metal credit cards heavier than their plastic counterparts? Yes, but weight is one area where ISO standards don’t apply. Banks and other credit card companies are free to use whatever materials they wish to create their cards. As a result, you’ll encounter cards with various weights, depending on the financial institution that issued them.

What are credit cards made of?

Most credit cards today are made out of a type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride acetate (PVC). This material is highly durable and helps to protect them against twisting, bending, and water damage. An additional advantage of PVC is that it allows manufacturers to easily hot-stamp the digits, cardholder’s name, card number, and other text onto the card.

Credit cards experience heavy usage, which makes them prone to damage. As such, manufacturing them using a sturdy material like PVC ensures they stay in circulation for a long time before needing to be replaced. Unfortunately, PVC isn’t environmentally friendly as it’s not biodegradable. In response, some financial institutions have recently started using sustainable alternatives for their cards, in line with eco-friendly trends.

Some credit cards are composed of metal, such as palladium, titanium, or stainless steel. Metal-based cards are more damage-resistant and sport a glossy, sophisticated look. Cards constructed in this material are becoming increasingly common, especially those that cater to wealthy households.

For example, the ultra-exclusive American Express Centurion Card (better known as the Black Card) is made out of titanium. Other metal cards include the American Express Platinum Card, BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite Privilege Card, and TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege Card.

Why do credit cards have a standard size?

A consistent size for credit cards ensures they’re compatible with payment devices worldwide. As a result, banking institutions and merchants can process billions of financial transactions each year accurately and efficiently.

For example, you can use your credit card to make a cash withdrawal from an ATM almost anywhere in the world. The ISO standard size ensures your card always fits neatly in the slot, so you never have to worry about it getting stuck in the machine.

Similarly, standard card proportions enable all types of point-of-sale terminals to identify your card during in-store purchases. Whether the device reads your card number after you swipe the magnetic stripe or insert it into the chip reader, you can rest assured your transaction will go through smoothly.

ATMs and card readers are designed specifically to accept credit cards with standard dimensions. So, it makes sense for credit card issuers to adopt universal standards for credit, debit, and prepaid cards. Otherwise, merchants would have to invest large sums of money into purchasing multiple card readers. Or they would have to decline cards incompatible with their payment processing technology.

An agreed-upon credit card size allows businesses and banking institutions to work together to streamline payment transactions.

Of course, when shopping online, credit card size is irrelevant. A credit card network like Visa or Mastercard will easily validate your purchase once you enter your card number, expiry date, and CVC code.

Frequently asked questions

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