Periodic Table -> The Chemistry of Credit Cards

The Chemistry of Credit Cards

Credit Cards are integral part of every modern Western financial system. North Americans are no exception; many of them own more than one credit card. Credit cards have replaced paper money in many financial transactions, and are commonly used to book travel accommodations, car rentals, and buy stuff online.

The history of credit cards can be traced back to the early 1920s in the US, when various oil companies introduced credit cards to sell gas to their auto customers. Of course these predecessors of modern credit cards were accepted only by the merchants that used them; however this started to change in the late 1930s when a few businesses started accepting each other’s credit cards. In 1958 Bank of America created BankAmericard, which was the first contemporary credit card. But this article is not about history, but about the chemistry of credit cards.

What Are Credit Cards Made Of

Modern credit cards look very much alike, no matter if they are issued to a customer in Europe, Japan or North America. They are roughly 3 by 2 inches in size, very thin and are made of plastic and a magnetic strip attached to the plastic.

Credit Cards Plastics - PVCA

The plastic the credit cards are made of is polyvinyl chloride acetate (PVCA). What exactly is PVCA you may ask? PVCA is a composition of copolymers of vinyl acetate and vinyl chloride. This material is dense and water resistant, which makes it perfect for making credit cards and bank cards in general. When polyvinyl chloride acetate is combined with plasticizers (additives that increase the plasticity) it produces elastic material which is fairly durable.

Credit Cards Magnetic Strips

The credit card magnetic strip is made out of blend of plastic film and tiny magnetised metallic particles, which allow data to be stored and changed right on the credit card. There are 3 info tracks on the magnetic stripe of each credit card. Most credit cards use only the first 2 tracks, and the third one is both read and write, which usually holds your PIN in special encrypted format and other information.

Contactless Credit Cards

There is a relatively new breed of credit cards – contactless credit cards. These cards have radio frequency identification chip (RFID), which can be scanned from a short distance. This makes the payment much more convenient. The contactless smart card readers exchange information with the smart credit card via radio waves.

The Future of Credit Cards

As technology progresses the credit card of the future might be very different in shape and functionality from the traditional credit cards we are used to. The ultimate goal is to make credit cards more convenient and secure, and this is an ongoing effort.

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