Now there’s another reason to beware using credit and debit cards too much: Handling them might make you sick.
In addition to the budget-busting potential of spending too much with payment cards, especially credit cards, a new study says they’re among the dirtiest common items out there – even more so than cash.
LendEDU.com, a finance website, tested various items for their germ scores and found credit and debit cards to be near the top of the list – not as dirty as New York City park benches and rental-bike handles, for example, but more so than a urinal handle at Penn Station and more than the city’s subway poles.
The 41 cards tested by the website had an average germ score of 285, compared with 160 for various dollar bills and 136 for different coins. Lower scores indicate less bacteria, with germ scores of 10 or below recommended for restaurant surfaces. LendEDU conducted the study in early May using Hygiena’s SystemSure Plus Handheld testing device.
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The Penn Station urinal had a score of 163.
“When you think about all the places your cash has been and how many times it has changed hands, you realize that bills become germ-transporting vessels,” noted the study’s author, Michael Brown. So too for payment cards, which are “getting swiped or inserted, changing hands or sitting on bar tops,” he said.
Safeguarding against germs
Brown called higher germ readings for payment cards over cash somewhat surprising.
“One might expect cash to be the filthiest since cash stays in circulation a lot longer and can travel across the country by changing hands,” he wrote in the report. However, debit and credit cards are being used more often and in an increasing number of places.
The report offered several sanitizing suggestions, from wiping cards periodically to washing your hands frequently before and after use.
“To my knowledge, wiping your credit or debit card down with a Lysol wipe will have no damaging impact on the chip or magnetic strip,” Brown said in an email to The Arizona Republic, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. “I have also heard that using the eraser side of a pencil will do wonders to wipe away any grime that exists on the magnetic strip.”
If you’re really worried about picking up more germs, try paying for more items using your computer or smartphone – assuming those surfaces are reasonably clean.
The dirtiest payment card examined had a score above 1,200 and was the filthiest item tested by LendEDU.
The cleanest, dirtiest cash
Despite the advent of debit and credit cards and various types of electronic payments, cash remains the most frequently used payment form, according to a Federal Reserve study, with the number of bills in circulation rising for 17 straight years.
One interesting recent development, according to the Fed study, is that there are now more $100 bills out there than any other denomination, as they have emerged as a favored way to store wealth and aren’t exchanged as often as many other bill types.
This meshes with a finding that $100 bills were the cleanest U.S. currency type examined by LendEDU, with $5 bills the dirtiest, followed by $10 and $20 bills.