Do Credit Cards Use RFID or NFC?

Technology has revolutionized the way we make payments. No longer do we need to shuffle through wallets for cash or write checks. With a simple tap, the transaction is complete. But what powers these swift transactions? Is it RFID or NFC? Let’s explore.

Do credit cards use RFID or NFC?

When tapping a contactless card, you’re using Near Field Communication (NFC). This is a subset or type of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Unlike RFID, which can transmit data up to a distance of 100 meters, NFC functions within a shorter range of about ten centimeters.

This need for proximity is why the card has to be tapped on a Point Of Sale (POS) terminal. Upon tapping, the terminal emits electromagnetic waves. The card captures these waves to power its internal Europay, Mastercard, and Visa (EMV) chip and antenna. This chip then generates a unique cryptographic token for that transaction, sending it back to the POS. Once a banking network, like Visa or Mastercard, verifies this token, the transaction concludes. It’s a digital handshake between your card and the terminal!

What is RFID?

RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification, employs radio waves to transfer information from an object to a reader. Widely adopted for tracking inventory, identifying luggage, and as anti-theft devices, its long-range capabilities make it versatile but not always ideal for payment systems.

What is NFC?

NFC, standing for Near-Field Communication, allows close proximity devices to share data wirelessly. As an evolution of RFID, NFC is more accurate and is therefore the preferred choice in the financial technology and payments sector.

Differences Between NFC and RFID

RFID and NFC are often used interchangeably, causing confusion. RFID finds its application in various scenarios like pre-paid cards for commuting or tags on retail products. Even pets might have RFID chips. While versatile, RFID’s lack of encryption makes it vulnerable, with the potential for data skimming.

NFC, on the other hand, is like RFID’s secure younger sibling. It employs encryption to ensure data remains confidential. Modern payment solutions, like Apple Pay, leverage NFC for transaction security.

Given RFID’s vulnerabilities, companies have innovated to improve security. A product like ArmourCard’s ArmourCELL uses NFC but inverts its function to act as a signal jammer, providing added data protection.

RangeUp to 100 metersApproximately 10 centimeters
Common UseInventory, Transport cards, Pet trackingContactless payments, Data sharing

Risks with NFC

Our smartphones are integral to our daily lives, often coming equipped with NFC. While NFC brings convenience, it isn’t hack-proof. A prevalent misconception is NFC’s short range means it’s secure. However, tools crafted for malevolent intent can intercept NFC signals, jeopardizing user data.


Contactless payment, via RFID or NFC, has reinvented our transaction experiences, providing unparalleled convenience. But, like all tech, knowing its intricacies and potential risks is essential. By staying informed, we ensure these tools serve us both effectively and safely.


1. What is the credit card RFID frequency?

Credit cards, when using RFID technology, typically operate at the high-frequency (HF) range of 13.56 MHz, which is the same as NFC.

2. Do all contactless cards use NFC?

Most contactless cards primarily use NFC due to its encryption, ensuring secure transactions.

3. Is NFC 100% safe?

While NFC offers encryption, no tech is fully invincible. Staying updated about potential threats and preventive steps is crucial.

4. How does RFID differ from NFC?

RFID is a more general tech used in multiple scenarios but doesn’t offer encryption. NFC, a subset of RFID, provides a secure encrypted channel, especially for financial transactions.


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