I work in accommodation for international travelers, and people can pay with various kinds of cards:

  • In some countries such as USA, credit cards are very common, but debit cards are not so common.
  • In other regions such as Europe, most people have debit cards, but credit cards are quite a bit less common.
  • These days in Australia both kinds of cards are very common.

Often customers are confused when I ask if they want to pay (or make a reservation) with credit card because they know they have a debit card and not a credit card. And there are other kinds of cards like ATM cards and EFTPOS cards. These can be used for payment but not for making reservations because they cannot be charged without access to the physical cards.

I've taken to using the circumlocution "Mastercard or Visa card", but I wonder if there's a better term? For instance Maestro cards are related to Mastercards and usually work here too.

All the cards have the same form factor and either/both a magnetic strip and/or smartcard chip. They are all processed with the same machine.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across the term "payment card" on Wikipedia, that I couldn't recall hearing before. I thought this would be the right term, but it seems not to include ATM cards so I guess I should rule it out ...

(My second reason for looking for this term is to decide on which tag or tags to use for such cards over on travel.SE, where we currently only have a credit-cards tag, but more and more questions about the other kinds of cards too.)

  • (The best term should be understood by the majority of people from most English-speaking countries, at least including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and USA.) Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 12:40
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    Does 'bank card' work?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:00
  • @Mitch: Possibly. I'm not sure how widely it's used. Some cards are from building societies or credit unions though. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:16
  • 1
    Charge card?
    – Terry Li
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 15:04
  • @TerryLi: I think charge cards are another kind of card. We don't have them in Australia - I think of them as an American thing. Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 1:12

10 Answers 10


The industry itself uses the term Payment Card. See this Wikipedia article for details. In IT you frequently hear the term "PCI compliant" to refer to software that meets security standards set out by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council, a consortium of players in the payment card business.

In practice the term isn't used often, but if you're looking for a single term I don't think there's a better one out there. I think the reason most merchants spell out which types of payment cards they take - "Visa, Mastercard, ATM and gift cards" for example - is because there's a lot of choices out there and most places do not accept all of them.

  • Thanks @Marcus. I guess you didn't notice the last paragraph in my question where I mention this term and Wikipedia article. Reading it though gave me the impression that it didn't include ATM cards. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:18
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    @hippietrail The article I linked references PCI; the PCI standards certainly do cover ATM cards. I do agree that the article in your link doesn't cover ATMs specifically.
    – Marcus_33
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:22
  • Aha well if the Wikipedia article is faulty then this is indeed the best term thanks! Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:37
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    I'm accepting this because even though it won't be familiar to many people, being a somehow official term makes it a good umbrella term in many arenas anyway, if not perhaps best for the primary use case I explained. Also, it's totally clear even if you haven't heard it before or have poor English. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:57
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    It's slightly unfortunate that "PCI card" (even if it's a redundant abbreviation) usually means something else.
    – Aesin
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 23:19

Some places have used the term plastic. It makes it clear it is not cash, or a check. It could be a credit card, debit card, or even a gift card.

  • 1
    Yes colloquial/informal but it certainly works. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:14
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    Will that be cash, check, or plastic?
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 14:33
  • In fact once I swipe the plastic the machine usually asks: cheque, savings, or credit? Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 15:10
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    @GEdgar: I wish the teller had said that when I went to pay my local property tax. Instead, she said "paper or plastic?" and confused me for a solid 90 seconds while I tried to figure out what could they possibly be bagging for me? Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 16:29
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    Actually, as RobAu mentioned in a comment on another answer, this will confuse some people who are newly arrived in countries with plastic (polymer) banknotes, such as Australia and New Zealand. Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 1:10

All of these things can be called bank cards as banks typically issue ATM cards, credit cards, and debit cards.

  • In which regions is this term used? I know of cards issued by at least credit unions and building societies too. And I think in some countries even some large department stores issue their own cards. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:19
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    The term is understood in the UK. I've no idea where Hugo is.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:23
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    @hippietrail en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bank_card , en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bank_card | There's also cash card which in some places is synonymous only with ATM cards. Is there some reason why you don't want to just use the word, card? The standard question is "Do you want to pay by cash or card?", right? Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:27
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    I had a feeling I'd heard it from British people. I seem to recall hearing cash card too. Here in Australia that was a brand name of one of the first ATM cards about thirty years ago. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:38
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    In Canada, anyway, a "bank card" would be synonymous with a debit card that a bank issues. Nobody would understand that to mean "credit card". Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:40

Here (UK) it would be common to just use card, e.g. "Can I pay by card?".

  • 1
    It doesn't work so well with "I'll need your card number to hold your reservation". Some people would understand, some wouldn't. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 15:12
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    I'd consider that normal idiomatic usage but quite possibly is not universal.
    – neil
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 15:18
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    Well in the UK people tend to just say credit card to mean both and assume that everywhere that takes a credit card also accepts debit
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 20:10
  • @hippietrail especially if they think you mean a "loyalty card"!
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 10:31
  • Then when they say yes, hand them a 6 of clubs.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 18:53

I have often heard debit cards, credit cards, ATM cards etc., referred to as 'plastic money'. I am not sure if that term is used in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but here is some source if you need to know more about the term.

  • It's informal/colloquial but a good answer thanks. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:14
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    Funny, in New Zealand the paper money is in fact very plastic-like Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 18:37
  • @RobAu not sure if you're joking :) but New Zealand bank notes are actually made of plastic rbnz.govt.nz/currency/money/0094127.html Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 20:21
  • Yes, I remembered correctly then :) Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 21:18
  • Which is weird since most money is not made of paper anymore, but plastic as well :)
    – Vlad Preda
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 8:19

I have had the same issue and have done one of the following:

  1. Said "credit or debit card". Clear, and not terribly long.

  2. Stated the type of cards accepted ("Visa or Mastercard", or "Laser, Visa or Mastercard"). This has the bonus of immediately dealing with someone having a card of a type that isn't taken.

Maestro cards are related to Mastercards and usually work here too.

That usually can catch people out though, as it has me when travelling with one of the exceptions - a maestro debit card not accepted where Mastercard is, and hence not working for my purchase. I would much rather they hadn't claimed to accept Maestro when actually they accepted Mastercard and by extension those Maestro which are accepted when Mastercard are.

  • When we do have problems, it's mostly with Maestro cards. We don't have Maestro in Australia. Our new card machine seems to be better with them though. Usually I can get them to work by manually entering the number if they refuse to work by swiping. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 12:48
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    @hippietrail there's both technical and organisational differences betwee different Maestro cards. A new machine might help the former, but not the latter.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 13:56

As a Commercial Banker for over 10 years, a current Insurance and Financial Services company owner, and utilizing my M.B.A. in Finance, the term I have seen universally used and use myself is "Finance Card."


Electronic Cash Cards seems good.

Wiki : Electronic cash states about Electronic cash with a magnetic stripe card.

  • 1
    +1. Very apt term and something I first heard about 10-15 years back when they were coming and about and were not that common. Common technical term to refer to such kind of money. I believe even just Electronic Cash or Electronic Money will do, no need to add "card" after that.
    – Mohit
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 5:08
  • Cards is superfluous I think. Electronic cash or even eCash should be good enough.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 6:44
  • Well credit cards didn't use to be electronic. Merchants had devices which took an impression of the embossed details on carbon paper. (image ... can't seem to find a picture of one on Wikipedia.) These might still be in use somewhere. Also there are other kinds of electronic money such as PayPal and Bitcoin. Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 8:40
  • 'Electronic cash is the debit card system of the German Banking Industry Committee, the association which represents the top German financial interest groups. An electronic card payment is generally made by the card owner entering their PIN (Personal Identification Number) at a so-called EFT-POS-terminal (Electronic-Funds-Transfer-Terminal). Comparable debit card systems are Maestro and Visa Electron. Banks and credit institutions who issue these cards often pair EC debit cards with Maestro functionality.' (Adapted from Wikipedia)
    – N K
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 8:46

They're generally called as 'Plastic cards' or just 'Plastic'. You must have heard the term often - Plastic Money'

  • 1
    Yes in fact it's already been mentioned twice before you (-; (1, 2) It's common enough in some places. The drawbacks are that it's informal/colloquial; in my use case it could be confused with our plastic key cards and our plastic Internet cards; and that more and more countries, including mine, have polymer banknotes - another kind of plastic money. Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 8:30

In the UK it's often colloquially referred to as just plastic — so one might ask a small retailer if they accept debit/credit cards by saying "Do you take plastic?"

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