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Do I Have to Activate a Credit Card?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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Many companies require you to activate a credit card, especially one you have just obtained. They may even require activation or “pinning” at a bank location of your ATM card. When you activate the card, you usually go through several minutes of over the phone providing of information, including checks of your home phone number, possibly the last four digits of your Social Security number, and occasionally other security checks. Typically, these requirements are meant as protective measures, and they also signify that you agree to the terms as provided by the credit card. There are a few circumstances where you shouldn’t activate a card.

For instance, if you have a card sent to you that you did not apply for, activation could really mean applying for the card, or could be a fraudulent attempt to get personal information from you. It’s also important to read all the conditions and terms of use before you agree to them. Sometimes, you apply for a card and find that you didn’t read these terms and conditions carefully enough. By not activating the card, you aren’t bound by its terms. You may need to call the credit card company's main number, not the activation number, to formally refuse the card.

Some companies have a deadline on the time in which you can activate a credit card. You may want to note how much time you have before the number or account will be considered outdated, which means you may have to reapply to get another card. Also, if you do apply for a credit card and haven’t received one within four to six weeks of approved application, you should call the company to which you applied and let them know. If someone has stolen your card and already activated it, the company will usually not hold you responsible for any charges.

When you get a renewed credit or ATM card, you may not need to activate it. An ATM card may have the same pin as your old one, and a renewed credit card with a new expiration date is often sent as a matter of course. Most companies will let you know if you have to activate a card that represents a renewal of your account, usually with a sticker on the front or back of the card and various literature sent with the card.

A few companies allow for merchant activation of cards. This means that as soon as you use the credit card, it is considered active. If you obtain a card to use for emergencies only, and merchant activation is the only means to activate it, you may want to call the credit card company to let them know you’ve accepted their terms, but that you don’t plan to use the card right away. Again, cards that remain inactive and aren’t used right away may be voided if you don’t indicate you want to keep them.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon942227 — On Mar 26, 2014

What if you purchase something online with a non-activated card? Does it still get charged? (I did not ask for this card). I just want to see if the order goes through, but haven't done it yet.

By Oceana — On Feb 17, 2013

Sometimes, you can get away with not activating a department store credit card. I've gotten cards in the mail after applying for them, and there have been phone numbers on the back to call, but I just didn't, and my card was still valid.

I was prepared to be told otherwise the first time I used one, but after seeing that it worked, I knew that I didn't really have to call to activate them. I'm sure this isn't always the case with every card, but sometimes, it does work.

By wavy58 — On Feb 16, 2013

@Kristee – I know what you mean. With my first credit card, I had to listen to this woman giving me a long sales pitch. All I wanted to do was activate my credit card, but I got roped into listening to her for ten minutes!

I didn't buy anything she was selling, and she tried hard to change my mind. This annoyed me. If I say, “No,” that's what I mean, and the person on the other end of the phone should respect this.

I like getting cards that I can activate online. I do have a few of these, mostly from department stores.

Also, there have been a few times when I only talked to a recording and punched in numbers when I called the credit card company to activate my card. This was pleasant, because it was over in just a few minutes.

By kylee07drg — On Feb 15, 2013

I wish I could get a credit card with no activation required. The reason I hate activating a card is because I have to talk to a salesperson on the phone who tries to sell me stuff.

She will try to sell me fraud insurance, which would be tacked onto my monthly credit card bill. Since I'm already not supposed to be held accountable for fraudulent charges, I don't see the use in buying insurance against this!

By Kristee — On Feb 15, 2013

If you find it easy to get credit cards with bad credit, then you might be getting a bad deal. I had a friend with horrible credit, yet he kept getting pre-approved for cards that he didn't even have to activate upon receiving them.

They charged him a yearly fee of $50 just to have the card. Also, the interest rate was super high.

He figured this out after using one of the cards for a few months. He racked up some debt and vowed never to use a credit card again.

By anon129495 — On Nov 23, 2010

I applied for a credit card, after receiving it I decided I didn't want it due to activation fees and enrollment fees. I never activated it and called to decline it. They said the account will be closed but I'm still responsible for the $135 fees. Can this be true if I didn't activate it and don't want it? Help!!

By anon85016 — On May 18, 2010

I am inclined not to either. I just had someone commit fraud on my cards. I had to close them both.

By anon35369 — On Jul 04, 2009

what happens if i never activate a card for which i've already agreed to the terms and already used the credit and already initiated payment based on those terms? this usually happens for purchase-based in-store credit cards for which the retailer requires you to agree to sign up for the card in order to complete the purchase. they send you a card in the mail later on. what happens if you don't activate the card they send you in the mail?

By anon26519 — On Feb 14, 2009

With all the fees and endless charges and inflated interest and time-sensitive payments, I would rather have poor credit than have to be indebted to a credit card that drains your wallet constantly.

When you go to a service to get you out of debt, they take your credit cards away, then down the road they tell you you need them again, huh? Why should I make a company rich and owe money on an ongoing basis when I can pay cash for what I want?

I will *never* get a credit card, don't like them, never have, never will.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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