Credit Building Tips

The Best Pen to Sign a Credit Card or Debit Card [EXAMPLES]

Shaun Connell
May 1, 2023

Signing the back of a credit card was once a key step consumers could take to prevent credit card fraud. These days, the ability to electronically (and securely) authenticate credit card purchases makes it so the signature on the back isn't quite as important.

That being said, some credit issuers still require cardholders to sign the back of their card in order for it to be considered active and valid.

Solution iconIf you've ever signed the back of a card with whatever pen you have lying around, you've probably noticed that the signature smudges or wipes off with use. In this article, we'll look at what you need to know about choosing the best pen to sign a credit card or debit card so it is both legible and long-lasting. (Hint: the answer is an ultra fine-tip permanent marker!)

Without further ado, let's explore the question of which pen to use to sign the back of your card.

What’s the Best Pen to Sign the Back of a Credit or Debit Card?

We’ve all been there– you received your new card in the mail and activated it using the authorization number. You flip your card over and sign your name, only to find that your signature smudges or even completely wipes off after just a few uses.

  • Are there any pens out there that won’t smudge or wear away when you use them to sign a credit or debit card?

Luckily, the answer is yes.

When searching for the perfect pen for signing your credit card or debit card, look for the following features:

  • Waterproof
  • Fast-drying
  • Fine, felt tip (or better yet, an ultra-fine tip)
  • Black ink
  • Permanent ink

If you’re going to go out and get a pen to sign your card, the best choice is going to be an industrial fine-tip Sharpie marker. A regular, fine-tip, or ultra-fine-top sharpie can also work in a pinch, as well as fine-tip markers that are designed for labeling DVDs and CDs.

Best Pens For Signing Cards

If you’re looking for a bit more guidance than that, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered!

Here are some pens that will help create a smudge-free signature that doesn’t wear away after a few swipes:

  • Sharpie Pro (look for the industrial grade)
  • Super Markers (comes with two tips, a fine tip for writing and a thicker tip when you need a more substantial line)
  • Staedtler Pens (a good alternative to a Sharpie that feels a lot more like a regular pen)

Did you get a new debit card, and you're wondering if your recent overdraft is going to ding your credit score? Check out this article to learn about whether bank overdrafts impact your credit.

Common Pen Types and Whether They Work For Signing Cards

Most people have a collection of different types of pens sprinkled around their house– ballpoint pens, fountain pens, felt-tipped pens, and gel pens. Let’s look at how each of these can work for signing your cards.

Ballpoint Pens

Ballpoint pens can smudge easily when you use them to sign the back of a debit or credit card. Even if they don’t smudge right away, they can rub off over time with use.

pen credit card and phone signing the back of debit card

If you do end up using a ballpoint pen to sign the back of your card, you’ll want to make sure that your signature dries completely before you stick your card in your wallet.

Fountain Pens

Fountain pens aren’t a good choice for credit or debit card signatures. The ink from fountain pens can be easily wiped off or smudged because of the way water-based ink interacts with the smooth surface of the card.

Getting a new credit card can be exciting, but there can also be a lot to learn as a new cardholder. Check out our guides to closing a credit card with a balance, credit card nicknames, and reporting income on credit card applications to learn more.

Permanent Felt-Tipped Markers

The best pens you can use for credit card signatures are permanent markers, as they dry quickly and don’t smudge or wear off the same way other types of pens do. However, many permanent markers have a big, chunky tip, which won’t work well for the thin signature strip.

When choosing a permanent marker to sign your card, look for one with a fine or ultra-fine tip. This way, your signature will be easily readable.

Gel Pens

Gel pens are probably the worst type of pen to use on a credit or debit card. The nature of the ink means that it doesn’t adhere easily to the plastic card, and the ink will likely smudge or rub off quickly. The ink doesn’t dry quickly on such a slippery surface, meaning that you really don’t even want to use this type of pen in a pinch.

If this is your very first credit card, you might be unsure of how the whole process works and what it means for your credit report. You can learn more about the tradelines on your report and how long they stay there in this recent post.

What Color Ink Should You Use to Sign a Debit or Credit Card?

You should always use black ink to sign the back of your credit or debit cards. Though black and blue ink is often considered acceptable for financial and official documents, it’s possible that signing your card with blue ink could actually invalidate the card. If you have your heart set on using blue ink, you’ll want to check with your debit or credit card issuer.

  • Colors other than black (and maybe, in some instances, blue) should never be used to sign a credit or debit card.

How Can You Avoid Smudges When Signing a Credit Card?

The material that credit cards are made out of is quite slick, which means that not all ink will easily adhere to it. Using the wrong pen to sign the back of your credit card can mean that your signature smudges right away.

In order to have your credit card signature remain legible and clear for years to come, you'll want to use a felt-tipped pen. Using a pen with a fine or ultra-fine point will ensure that your signature is written in a way that is easily readable.

FAQ About Signing Credit and Debit Cards

When you get your new card, the last thing you want to do is somehow invalidate it by not signing it properly. Let's take a look at the answer to some of the most common questions asked about signing credit and debit cards.

Do You Really Have to Sign Your Credit Card?

Signing the back of your credit card was once an essential step in preventing the occurrence of credit card fraud. Back in the day, the merchant would compare the signature on your card to the signature on the receipt when you paid with a credit card. If the signatures were a match, the transaction would be approved by the merchant.

woman putting credit card in wallet after signing with the best pen

Here in the present day, authentication occurs electronically. This means that it isn’t nearly as important to sign your credit card as it once was.

That being said, some card issuers still require that your card is signed. In these cases, your signature can be an indication that your card is active and that you are on board with the credit card agreement terms.

You might even find that one of the cards in your wallet says something along the lines of:

Considering that a card that isn’t signed could be viewed as invalid or inactive by a merchant, it’s possible that your card could be refused if there isn’t a signature on the back. When in doubt, it’s a good idea to check with your credit or debit card issuer to see if it’s necessary for you to sign the back of your card.

Did someone get a hold of your credit card information and wreak havoc on your credit score? This guide goes over how to repair your credit after identity theft and fraud.

Should You Write “See ID” Instead of Signing Your Card?

Some cardholders will write “See ID” in the signature strip rather than actually signing their name. Is this a good idea?

The reason that people do this is that it theoretically decreases the chance of being a victim of credit card fraud. The idea is that when the merchant goes to check their signature, they are prompted to ask for ID before continuing with the sale. If someone fraudulently got a hold of the cardholder's credit card, they wouldn’t be able to produce an ID that matches the name on the card.

While this might seem like a worthwhile layer of protection between you and credit card fraud, there are a few issues with this strategy:

  • Smaller purchases don’t always require a signature
  • Some merchant agreements might not allow retailers to require ID in order to move forward with a sale
  • Your card could technically be considered inactive and invalid if your issuer requires a signature

If you are interested in writing “See ID” instead of signing, you’ll want to contact your issuer or take a look at your credit or debit card agreement.

Speaking of keeping your credit card info safe and secure, have you ever wondered what that three or four digit number is on your credit card? Take a look at our guide to CIDs on credit cards to learn more.

Can I Leave the Back of My Card Blank?

This depends on whether or not the card issuer requires that your card is signed in order for it to be considered active and valid. If your issuer doesn’t require a signature, you are free to leave the signature strip blank if you so choose.

These days, some cards don’t even have a signature box if the issuer doesn’t require it. If this is the case, you certainly don't have to sign.

Are you considering applying for a new credit card but you're also planning on applying for mortgages soon? Take a look at our article about whether it's a bad idea to open a new credit card before buying a house to look at both sides of the argument.

Where Should You Sign a New Credit Card?

When you receive a new credit card or debit card, flip it over to look at the back. There should be a blank, white strip. This is what is known as the signature bar, and it is where you should sign your card.

  • However, you might turn your card over only to find that there is no such signature strip.

Don't worry-- this doesn't mean you received a defective card. Card issuers have started phasing out the signature strip as retailers have been moving away from requiring signatures. Transactions can now be authorized through the EMV chips in your card, meaning that the signature doesn't play the same crucial role it once did in preventing credit card fraud.

If there's no signature strip, it means you don't have to sign your card.

How Can I Change My Signature on My Credit or Debit Card?

If you want to change the signature on the back of your debit or credit card, you will want to request a new card. This will allow you to create a fresh signature on the back that matches the signature you use during transactions.

Should I Sign My Name in Cursive or in Print on My Card?

It's generally advised that you sign your name in cursive instead of simply printing your name on the back of your card. The reason for this is that it is typically harder to forge a distinct cursive signature than a printed name.

Should I Sign My Full Name When Signing a Debit or Credit Card?

When you sign the back of your card, you want your signature to be identical to the way you would sign your name on a receipt or on any other document. This means that if you normally include your middle name in your signature, you'll want to do the same on the back of your card.

What Happens If the Signature on My Credit or Debit Card Is Illegible?

Technically, some credit card issuers require that your card is signed in order to be valid and active. Others, however, don't even require that you sign your card anymore.

It isn't important that your signature is legible on your card-- many people have signatures that are very difficult to read. What is important is that it matches your typical signature on other legal documents. If you are concerned about legibility because the signature is wiped off or smudged, you'll want to use an ultra-fine felt-tip pen to ensure it is permanent and easy to read.

Should I Sign My Debit or Credit Card Before or After Activating It?

When your brand-new credit or debit card shows up in the mail, the first thing you'll want to do is activate it. You can easily do this online or over the phone, and the information you need to activate your card should be included on a sticker on your new card.

This sticker will give you the instructions you need to follow to activate your card. Once your card has been activated, it's time to sign the card (if there is a signature strip where you can do so.)

Keeping Your Financial Life in Your Control

The question of which pen to use to sign the back of your card might seem like a minor issue, but it's details like these that add up to create a healthy and stable financial life. Though signing the back of your card might not be required by all card issuers, it's still possible that it could provide some added security for you against credit card fraud. Beyond that, some credit card companies actually require that you sign your card in order for it to be considered active and valid.

It's possible, in this case, that you could end up having a transaction declined because your card is considered invalid and inactive without a signature. Even if you did sign it once, a signature that wipes off over time could eventually cause you some trouble.

Are you working on getting your finances in order and rebuilding your credit? If so, you've come to the right place. Make sure you check out our library of resources over at our Credit Building Tips blog to help you boost your credit quickly and effectively.

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Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell is a personal finance and credit expert with a passion for helping individuals eliminate debt and improve their credit. He's enjoyed writing investing and financial content for over 15 years, with expertise in real estate, debt, banking, credit, and wealth building. His work has been seen by millions on the web.

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