TD Bank Pushes Totally Flat Debit Cards

Run your fingers over one of TD Bank’s new debit cards and you’ll notice something missing. There’s no embossed numbers. It’s not a fake, it’s the future: a completely flat debit card that can be issued right on the spot when you open an account at a local bank, with no waiting for it to arrive in the mail.

We covered this recently as part of another post but it’s so odd we thought it worth calling out on its own.

TD Bank introduced the cards in 2007 as a pilot program and seems to have recently pushed them out to ex-Commerce Bank locations and customers, which is how I noticed it when it came in the mail.

There’s really little reason for cards to be embossed these days because most transactions are done by swiping. I think the only times recently someone did a rubbing of my card was a jitney cab and Chinese food delivery boy.

Use your new TD Bank Visa® Debit Card every day, everywhere you shop. [TD Bank]
TD Banknorth is First to Offer Customers Instant Access to Flat-Panel Debit Cards [Debit Card News]

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  1. Jubei says:

    Yeah, where I used to work if the card can’t swipe we’d do an imprint (after manually keying in the numbers) – no way to imprint or swipe? No sale for you!

    • Shadowfire says:

      This. It is part of the merchant agreement that we take imprints of cards if we cannot swipe them, so I’m curious how Visa/etc will deal with this.

    • mac-phisto says:

      this is actually better for merchants b/c manually keying in the card # & imprinting the card does not meet the criteria for a “card present” transaction. you shouldn’t be completing a sale using this method anymore – the networks will accept it, but your protection against chargeback is not the same as if the card was swiped (b/c you’re not capturing CVV data or doing name matching w/ a manual entry).

      • SJActress says:

        When we have to punch in a number, the CC machine asks for the CVV code, and we can’t complete the transaction without it.

    • brinks says:

      That’s the first thing I thought of as well. You’d better hope this card never gets demagnetized or it’s worthless. NO ONE will accept it.

      • Rectilinear Propagation says:

        But if it becomes demagnetized you can get it replaced same day at a branch!

        • meltingcube says:

          Unless this occurs on a weekend, in which case your out of luck until the next business day. Have fun having no access to your money!

          • spindle789 says:

            yeah, unless you go to one of their branches open on a Saturday or Sunday. If your card from any other bank gets demagnetized, enjoy waiting for it in the mail.

    • Jesse says:

      I just found this piece of literature regarding TD Merchant Services in Canada. On page 3 there is a subsection regarding their unembossed cards. It states that if a card cannot be run electronically, another form of payment should be requested. I’m sure a similar policy in in place for the United States.

      http://www.tdcanadatrust.com/merchantservices/pdf/contact_spring2006.pdf

  2. DavidCopperballs says:

    My friend has one. For some reason he always offer to collect the cards for credit card roulette….

  3. TheFinalBoomer says:

    It’s about time these came out. Embossed card are pretty much useless these days and this is a great convenience for sure. Not to mention that you can just go back to the bank and get a new one when you need it instead of ordering and waiting.

    • brinks says:

      As a retail manager, I can tell you that cards need to be embossed should they become demagnetized. If so, we manually enter the card, then make an imprint of the card on an old-school carbon-type receipt. That proves he card was present. No merchant is going to be able to accept a flat card for payment of it won’t swipe. Pretty much everyone uses the same procedure as we do.

      • Jesse says:

        It will force people to get a new, working card faster. I worked at a gas station in college and some of our regular customers would use their demagnetized cards for months. Most major banks I know will replace a demagnetized card for free so it never made sense to me.

      • mac-phisto says:

        again, imprinting a card does not cover a merchant against fraud for a “card present” authorization. the networks changed those rules about 3 years ago (somewhere around the TJX breach). merchants should NOT be manually keying transactions – it exposes you to fraud.

        right from the horse’s mouth (emphasis added):
        “If a Visa card cannot be swiped, you must key-enter the card account data into your POS terminal. When you key-enter a transaction, you run the risk of accepting a counterfeit card because the magnetic stripe information is unavailable.”

        that’s network-speak for, “if the card’s a fake, you’re on the hook”.

    • Harrkev says:

      I use a tiny branch of acredit union. They can make an embossed card while you wait (about 10 minutes). I do not see what the big deal is. If the tiny office that I use can do it, the bigger banks should have no problem.

      • Jevia says:

        Agreed. I’ve never had to wait for an embossed card from a bank when I opened an account. Always got one on the spot.

      • puka pai says:

        Yeah, my (now former) credit union could make you an embossed card while you waited. In fact, they had a little ATM mockup that could be used to show people how to use an ATM if they didn’t know how, but would also encode your PIN as you chose it and punched it in. Open your account, walk out with access to it that day.

        This was in 1996, BTW.

  4. nagumi says:

    All debit cards here (Israel) are like this, as they whole idea is that it comes right out of your account right away, with no waiting.

    • Hirayuki says:

      Why would embossed or not-embossed make a difference in the speed at which the funds are debited from one’s account?

  5. rbleader says:

    Why do they make it embossed in the first place?

    Also, is there any CC issued in US that has a contact smart card? (not the RFID, but ISO/IEC 7816 ones)

    • DanRydell says:

      In days of yore they used to use carbon paper to transfer the numbers onto a piece of paper that they would use as proof that you made a purchase.

      • rbleader says:

        Thanks. Didn’t know that.

        That actually means anyone working at the store would know your name, CC number, and exp date… seems like very exploitable method…

        • BjornOlafson says:

          But this was re-internet, so they would have to actually show up in person to use the card, which they would have to produce ID for. Doesn’t make so much since now.

          • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

            I was still doing imprints of credit cards used for copays at a hospital in a major metropolitan area as late as 2003.

            • Xay says:

              There are still a lot of small vendors using carbon paper. I went to an arts and crafts fair in December and at least a third of the vendors used this method.

              • Noadi says:

                This is because the vast majority of art and craft fairs do not have electricity or secure internet connections available. I have an old fashioned imprinter for those fairs and then process the cards when I get home.

        • docrice says:

          Exploitable? Nevermind the skimmers that can copy the card and all of its information by simply swiping it through something that people may not know is there….

      • TouchMyMonkey says:

        They also had a book with a list of all the lost and stolen cards. I can’t imagine that being updated often enough to catch very many thieves.

      • TouchMyMonkey says:

        They also had a book with a list of all the lost and stolen cards. I can’t imagine that being updated often enough to catch very many thieves.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Why do they make it embossed in the first place?

      Questions like this make me feel old. Was it really all that long ago that they’d make an imprint for credit card purchases?

    • Veeber says:

      Don’t think so. Visa and MC agreed on using the contactless. Don’t see a good reason why anyone else would try to buck it if most merchants will have a contactless system available.

  6. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    But how am I supposed to know if they credit card offers that come in the mail are fake or not if the fake ones feel the same as a real one? It annoys me that they send a fake card, but at least then I know it’s not an activatable credit card.

    • backinpgh says:

      I’ve gotten fake ones with embossing on them too! They say “Joe. M. Consumer 0000 0000 0000 0000″ or something. They are very clever.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        I’m gotten ones with my name and a seemingly legitimate card number and exp. date.

        It was a legitimate concern actually, not something to be flippant about.

    • YOXIM says:

      No one will just send you a credit card out of the blue, so don’t worry about it. Any card you get in the mail that you did not yourself order is likely fake. Also, aside from the embossed numbers, I’m pretty sure the fake and real cards are made out of different materials.

      As for cards being issued on the spot, this already happens. Just the other day I went to my bank to get a new debit card after the magnetic strip on my old one wore out, and I got one on the spot. Didn’t take five minutes. I thought this was common…

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        I’ve received legitimate cards (embossed, with scanning strip, and legitimate card numbers and expiration dates) out of the blue, and other people do, too. They can be activated via phone. These cards are always dangerous, because you can’t just throwm them away you need to cut them apart to ensure a dumpster diver doesn’t activate and use them.

      • Rectilinear Propagation says:

        No one will just send you a credit card out of the blue

        Yes they will. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen.

    • mac-phisto says:

      i think the safest thing to do is to shred it all. that’s what i do – fake card/real card, i don’t care. it all goes in the chipper.

  7. satoru says:

    Well I guess you eliminated 2 things credit card thieves need to buy to being their ring, an embosser and silver strips.

    I’m not sure if this make it harder or not. One one hand, you can no longer print out reams of ‘generic’ TD bank cards to be later embossed with the name and numbers on it. It just means you need to do that during the printing process. You probably end up moving the time required to emboss the card, further upstream to when you print the cards instead.

  8. Riroon13 says:

    These were tried over a decade ago (possibly by CitiBank). I should know, because I had one in the early 90′s. The fad didn’t catch on back then.

  9. graymccarty says:

    I’m interning in the US (I’m from Toronto) and it’s always so weird for me to see TD here. I get excited :)

  10. nbs2 says:

    At least the Visa logo is on the front

  11. ash says:

    Local credit union also does “instant” debit cards. They’re made right at the branch and they had it for me within 30 minutes. Having a flat card was strange to me at first, but it’s certainly more convenient than waiting for it in the mail. I was also able to activate it right away.

  12. Christopher Wilson says:

    My local credit union can do an embossed card on the spot, name and all. This is just going to make it harder to use the card when stupid cashiers think its a fake.

    • FangDoc says:

      Mine did too! We walked in, opened our account, and were handed two embossed debit cards with our names on them, on the spot.

      The only weird thing about our debit cards is that they feature a (very pretty) picture of the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys, while our credit union is located in a single central Pennsylvania county. With no Keys to speak of.

      • mac-phisto says:

        ahh! the joys of stock photography! my credit union has a photo of a lighthouse in ME (we’re in CT).

        smaller institutions (CUs especially) use preprinted card stock b/c it saves them a significant amount of money. branding the card w/ a custom image increases the cost per card & requires that a large number of cards be purchased in advance (2500+).

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      My bank charges $1 for an instant issue but will mail for free. My credit union just uses instant issue.

      The credit union card is embossed, they replaced my damaged card with the same number on the spot for me. My bank isn’t local to me, so I have never seen their instant issue card.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      I got one of these from my bank and immediately thought cashiers’ would think it was fake. In fact, I didn’t even bother signing it because I wanted to see if anyone would call me out on it being a real card. I very rarely have cash, have used this card in several states now (still unsigned) and not a single person has questioned it. Some comment on it being odd, that’s it.

  13. Link_Shinigami says:

    TD also doesn’t use shiny ink for the numbers. They stopped doing that ages ago… As well as not putting your name on the card. Those I gathered were to combat potential skimmers reading your name and number with a camera.

    This is just weird they’d do flat cards though… Their stand alone visa cards still are bumped, shiny and named though…

    I wonder if this is really just an American thing? The whole debit/credit card seems pretty American too, TD issued me two cards, a debit and a credit and they can’t be merged (As far as I know)

    • dragonfire81 says:

      If you are in Canada, then no they can’t be merged. In the U.S. a single card can act as a debit card/ATM card AND be run as a credit card since it has a Mastercard or Visa logo on it.

      In Canada anything with a Visa/MC logo is an actual credit card with a credit line attached to it.

  14. andoman says:

    This is weird because before Commerce changed to TD, they could make me an embossed card right on the spot. I’m guessing that equipment isn’t as cheap as the kind that can do non-embossed cards.

  15. scurvycapn says:

    I’m pretty sure that just a few years ago Circuit City was making imprints of credit cards. Of course, it was rare I ever shopped there because when they were on commission, it drove me nuts because they’d always bug you. Then they were no longer on commission, and I had trouble checking out as they didn’t have a regular checkout area, and no one would ever be around to check me out at any of the stations throughout the store. No wonder they went out of business.

    • hansolo247 says:

      Circuit City also usually only had 1 cash register.

      In summary, there’s lots of reasons they are gone.

  16. areaman says:

    The upside of this is it takes the mail and activation phone call out of the loop.

    Down side of this is a bank worker might not know how to work the machine that imprints these cards. Then they may give a shitty, phony, bank worker excuse and end up being ridiculed Consumerist.

  17. PsiCop says:

    Better not use these cards at Best Buy … they might have you arrested for it.

  18. Cantras says:

    They took a rub of my card when i signed up for a newspaper (i know, old tech, old industry) — guarantees no mis-copying over 3 copies of the sheet?

    It’s weird to me, I don’t like them so much. They feel less official somehow, like this is just a fake or a gift card.

  19. Steve says:

    This seems like a money grab for the banks. An employee at a small business once explained to me that they still use the imprint swipers to save customers money, because the bank fees for these manual machines are significantly cheaper than fees for the electronic debit machines. Expect to see an increase in debit transaction fees concurrent with the adoption of these new cards. This is full of fail for the consumer.

  20. Urgleglurk says:

    I hope that TD Bank (and others that adopt this) make sure that stores and other vendors know this change is coming. I can just see some teenager refusing to honor that card and call the police claiming it’s a fake. Like happens occasionally when people try to use $2 bills…

  21. sponica says:

    my new card has been in the envelope for months…seeing as it has the same numbers as my old debit card, i saw no reason to activate the flat card

  22. AI says:

    Alberta Treasury Branch did this over 15 years ago with their debit cards. They were embossed, but had no name. If you needed a new card, they’d grab one from the box, program it with your account data, and give it to you right then. I’m not sure why this is a big deal, or what the embossing has to do with a debit card anyways.

  23. teamplur says:

    A few years ago I had a Bank of America key tag debit card. It was basically like the key tags you get for store loyalty programs but it had a small magnetic strip. There was no embossing, just the card number in small black letters and my picture very small (like my full sized debit card). It was great for times I forgot my full sized card as it was on my key chain, but I did lose it once or so, and the last one I had got worn out and the hole that was punched for my key ring broke as well so it went to a drawer somewhere. I wouldn’t mind having another though.

    • mbz32190 says:

      I remember my dad having a “Discover 2 Go” card for a while, but they must have discontinued it. I remember it wouldn’t read through many machines correctly/on the first attempt.

  24. sporks says:

    Uh, my credit union does embossed cards on site and takes less than an hour. I don’t know if there’s some credit union voodoo magic going on there or what, but this isn’t really news to me.

    Seriously guys, use a credit union if at all possible. My other bank sucks and takes a week to send me a debit card and the service is nowhere near that of my credit union.

  25. tvmitch says:

    The old, awesome Commerce Bank, Harrisburg PA region (now the new, bucket-of-suck “Metro Bank”) has done this since at least 2004. They print embossed cards right at the branch, which is a nice service…each branch has a little machine the size of a Scantron reader.

    Now, the last time I got a card done there (at “Metro Bank” a couple months ago), the vinyl paint on the card started peeling off minutes after I left the branch. But it’s still embossed…

  26. UlimaLibizzle says:

    I got one of these cards, and it’s been driving me crazy. I use the raised letter to figure out which way the card is facing by feel. Without the raised lettering, it takes me twice as long to put the card in the correct orientation for inserting in card slots. Also, many card readers are designed so that it’s hard to put the card in the wrong way (the embossed numbers make the card too fat), but this card can be inserted in any direction.

    This changover costs me 1-2 seconds every time I use my card!! If I use the card twice a day, I will have wasted up to 530 seconds over a year! That’s almost 10 minutes of my precious time!!!!

    (OK, so maybe I’m overreacting, but it’s one of those little annoyances).

  27. CT_Minh78 says:

    The wife got one of these a couple months ago from TD Bank. She called about it, and the CSR said LOADS of people had been calling because they thought they were fake credit cards.

    The only downside I can think of is with the swipe machines like if a retailer’s CC processing connection goes down.

  28. CapitalC says:

    My bank embosses them onsite so you can verify them right away…

  29. james says:

    The limo services all take your card over the phone, and then have the driver swipe your card with a manual swiper, one that expects raised numbers.

    What to do when one’s card can’t be “Kachunked”?

  30. azntg says:

    I really hated how TD Bank handled the changeover to the flat debit cards.

    I got the card out of the blue (saw no announcements on bank statements and apparently missed the teeny image that they put up on Online Banking apparantly).

    At first, I thought it was one of those fake display cards that credit card issuers routinely put into pre-approval letters. The ugly design didn’t help.

    Finally, the adhesive that they used to affix the card to the letter was simply too strong. It left sticky residue spots all over the card. Being the inveterate chemist, I dabbed some solvent to remove the residue. It worked, but it also mutilated the card in the process (though the magnetic stripe was left intact)

    Since I will be travelling overseas soon and didn’t want to risk interrogation if I have to present my “fake-looking” card to get some cash, I went to former Commerce Bank locations to see if they are able to create an embossed card for me. I got my Commerce Bank branded debit card made for me on the spot when I first opened my account with them and I know they made embossed TD Bank branded debit cards too at one point.

    Apparantly, none of the former Commerce Bank locations can make embossed cards anymore. I asked at 42nd & Madison, Hoboken Newark Street, Franklin Square and Garden City branches to no avail.

  31. Coalpepper says:

    Interesting, but why is it necessary? Several of the credit unions here issue embossed cards on the spot, though admittedly this is cheaper for the bank, but i’d think there’d be a bigger risk of fraud.

  32. tricky1 says:

    I know that most places that would have an embosser may also have an pretty new invention that I haven’t seen mentioned…………..

    A COPIER???

  33. shepd says:

    Another weird US thing! I’ve opened 5 accounts at different banks in Canada, and every single time I was issued a debit card on the spot. They’re premade (last one I got was glued to the agreement), and the numbers on it have nothing to do with your account number. But that’s how they all are here, so it’s nothing unusual. And they’re always embossed.

    • bluevideo says:

      US debit cards work as MasterCard or Visa cards, thus need to have the accountholder’s name on them. This makes the Canadian way (handing out a pre-embossed random card out of a box) a little impractical.

      Incidentally, this is also why your Interac cards generally don’t work here, to the chagrin of every restaurant employee within 200 miles of the Canadian border who keeps getting handed those things a dozen frickin’ times a day only to deal with some incredulous Canadian schmuck when told he has to pay some other way.

  34. maztec says:

    Except blind people are SOL.

  35. Winter White says:

    One BIG reason for cards to be embossed:

    When a store’s internet goes down and they need to use one of those manual imprint card slips, your shiny, flat card is a no-go. This happened at a store I’m a buyer for last week.

  36. soj4life says:

    This new system is easier to produce multiple card styles with the same card stock, along with the ability to change card designs without wasting card stock.

  37. brianary says:

    The ol’ ‘knucklebuster’ came out twice in the last month when swiping wasn’t working for whatever reason, at two different retailers.