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Should Small Businesses Require Receipt Signatures?

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
Editor
Business News Daily Staff
Updated Oct 13, 2022

Card networks no longer require signature verification. What does this mean for your small business?

  • Collecting receipt signatures is optional if you have an EMV-compliant credit card reader. EMV cards are also known as chip cards, since the information about the card is stored in a chip as opposed to a magnetic stripe. 
  • EMV is more effective than receipt signatures for deterring credit card fraud. Since 2015, EMV-compliant merchants have seen counterfeit fraud drop 76%, according to Visa.
  • Receipt signatures may still be useful for some small businesses, such as restaurants that use receipts to collect tips, or service professionals that use them as proof of approval for work orders or for acceptance of completed work.
  • This article is for small business owners interested in alternatives to asking customers for signatures on credit card and debit card transactions.

Many merchants breathed a sigh of relief when Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express announced they were no longer collecting signatures on credit card or debit card transactions due to the advent of EMV technology. In this guide, we’ll go into detail about what a credit card receipt is, what information is included on a receipt, why customer signatures were required in the first place, the security standards that replace the signature, and practical tips that cardholders can implement to keep their cards out of the wrong hands.

Did you know?Did you know? Of all recent in-store purchases, 86.1% of transactions were completed via EMV technology.

What is a credit card receipt?

A credit card receipt is a printout or email detailing the components of a transaction. Vendors, retailers and merchants may provide customers with a credit card receipt, which is proof of transaction for payment of goods and services. The vendor’s POS system generates a receipt and prints it for the payer. 

What information is on a credit card receipt?

Since consumer privacy is part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, certain information must be present on a credit card receipt.

  • Your primary account number: Your PAN is a condensed version of your full card number. Your PAN is typically the last four digits of your full card number.
  • Transaction information: This includes the date, time and total transaction amount. Some vendors will itemize each item purchased and its price.
  • Vendor information: The vendor’s name, address and merchant ID tells the payment processing system where to send the payment.
  • Authorization code: This is the approval code for the transaction, authorized by the card company. It states the buyer has enough funds available for the purchase.

Should you keep your credit card receipts?

Keeping credit card receipts can be advantageous for customers and businesses. There are several reasons a customer may keep receipts:

  • To reconcile their credit card statement
  • In the event a customer wants to return or exchange an item
  • For tax purposes
  • If the product has a warranty or is eligible for a mail-in rebate

Keep in mind that businesses act not only as a supplier, but also as a consumer when they purchase products. The reasons a consumer may keep receipts also apply to a business owner when it acts as a consumer. Here are additional reasons a business may keep receipts:

  • For tax purposes, both for income and expenses (the IRS advises business owners to keep records for three years)
  • To help prepare financial statements, whether monthly, quarterly or annually
  • To help reconcile, budget and manage inventory
  • To monitor your income and expenses so you can make sound business decisions

TipTip: Check your credit card service agreement for any clauses regarding receipts and recordkeeping.

Why were customer signatures required?

For decades, credit card companies relied on receipt signatures to prevent fraud. They required merchants to collect and store customer signatures so that if a transaction was disputed, the merchant could produce a signed receipt proving the customer was physically in the store and personally approved the purchase. Without this proof, merchants were on the hook for losses due to chargebacks. They were also liable if the signature on the receipt didn’t match the signature on file or on the card. With the advancement of EMV-compliant card readers, chip readers have replaced customer signatures. 

Chip readers replacing customer signatures

In 2015, credit card companies began issuing chip cards to consumers. This shifted liability for counterfeit fraud occurring at the point of sale to merchants who hadn’t yet upgraded to EMV-compliant card readers. This laid the groundwork to shift away from signatures, since chip cards and digital wallets have advanced anti-fraud technologies – such as tokenization and biometrics – to authenticate transactions. This technology renders credit card signature requirements obsolete.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: For decades, signatures were kept on file to verify card transactions, but advancements in anti-fraud technologies have made the practice obsolete.

How no-signature transactions work

Prior to EMV technology, signing a receipt was the standard for authenticating a credit card purchase. As of June 2021, Visa, Discover, Mastercard and American Express eliminated customer signatures on all credit card purchases. Signature requirements did not prevent fraud and the process wasn’t as secure. Credit card companies found a more secure way to protect the cardholder from fraud or inauthentic transactions while speeding up the in-store checkout process. Here are three things you should know about the process of no-signature transactions: 

  • The cardholder retains possession of the card. Previously, some merchants would be in charge of the swipe. This allowed for card skimming – or card duplication – if it wound up in the hands of the wrong merchant.
  • When you insert your chip card into a top POS system, you’ll see a “do not remove card” message. During this time, the chip, which is the microcomputer on the card, is sending a message to the credit card company, and the credit card company replies. Once it’s authenticated, the cardholder is prompted to remove the card.
  • Every chip-card transaction generates an unrepeatable code. If a hacker accesses your transaction number, that number would not work for future purchases and would alert EMV technology to the scam.  

In 2018, the big four credit card companies allowed EMV-compliant merchants to expedite signature-free checkout. Big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target applauded the decision. A speedier checkout process, eliminating the need to save receipts and using resources to store receipts, factored into the adoption of EMV.

Did you know?Did you know? EMV is not just a technology, but a brand. Europay, Mastercard, and Visa, known collectively as EMV, is a global brand that started in the 1990s, with the purpose of eliminating credit card fraud.

Should your business stop asking customers to sign credit card receipts?

Even though large retailers quickly dropped their credit card signature requirements following the card brands’ announcements, some merchants continue to collect customer signatures on debit and credit card transactions. [Learn more about accepting credit card payments by reading our guide.]

Before you decide which option makes the most sense for your business, here are a few factors to consider. 

1. Is your business EMV compliant?

If you haven’t yet updated your credit card readers to EMV-compliant models, you aren’t eligible to skip signature verification for Visa and Discover transactions. 

Visa reports that, as of March 2019, 75% of U.S. storefronts have embraced EMV technology. That leaves 25% that have yet to upgrade their systems. If you’re still holding out on EMV technology, speak with your credit card processor about updating your card reader. In addition to enabling you to stop collecting receipt signatures, it significantly lowers your risk of counterfeit credit card fraud at the point of sale. 

Despite the lack of a signature requirement for the past year, EMV technology has been effective against fraud. Visa reports that, as of September 2018, EMV-compliant merchants have seen counterfeit fraud drop 76% since September 2015. EMV has increased in popularity for merchants and consumers. Currently, EMV accounts for 86.1% of in-store transactions. [Interested in the best credit card processing for your business? Check out our reviews and top picks.] 

2. Does your POS system allow you to eliminate signature authorization for credit card transactions?

If you already have an EMV-compliant credit card terminal or card reader, the next step is to check with your POS system provider to find out if the software has been updated to remove this step from the checkout process. 

Many POS providers have updated their systems to let merchants choose whether or not they want to continue requiring customers to sign for purchases. Some, like Square, offer multiple receipt signature options. You can choose to always require receipt signatures, never require receipt signatures, or only require receipt signatures for transactions over $25.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right credit card processor for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

3. Does your business use signatures for proof of approval?

If your business uses receipt signatures for other purposes, such as approving a work order, accepting completed work, or agreeing to a sales policy (such as “all sales are final”), you may need to keep collecting receipt signatures. 

Writing for 360 Payments, Lisa Coyle says, “Even if you decide that you are ready to do away with them on your EMV credit card receipts, you may find value in adding a signature requirement to your contract or work order. Signatures are good for much more than authorizing a credit card transaction.” 

Restaurants are also likely to continue requiring receipt signatures to encourage tipping. If, for instance, your business is a sit-down restaurant that doesn’t have a pay-at-the-table option allowing patrons to add a tip before paying the bill with a card, it probably doesn’t make sense to forgo receipt signatures. It’s less awkward to ask customers to sign paper receipts with tip prompts than to ask them the amount they want to tip before you charge their credit cards. 

4. Are you nervous about chargebacks or credit card fraud?

All merchants may be nervous about chargebacks or credit card fraud. Merchants who have adopted EMV-compliant technologies should be far less concerned. At the inception of EMV-compliant technology in 2015, critics worried the chip-and-sign process was less secure than the chip-and-PIN. Unlike magnetic-stripe cards, which originated in the 1960s and are borderline obsolete today, chip cards are nearly impossible to duplicate. This reduces credit card fraud and increases authenticity. Likewise, because of EMV’s heightened anti-fraud technology and increased security, merchants have less liability for a chargeback. 

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: If you want to stop asking customers for their signature on credit card or debit card transactions, you should ensure your card reader or POS system is equipped to handle EMV transactions.

How to keep credit card information safe

Although the big four credit card companies no longer require a cardholder to sign the back of a card, since EMV-compliant systems are generally regarded as secure, you and your customers may wish to take extra precautions to ensure account safety. Here are some everyday tips for cardholders:

  • Don’t let others use your credit card. If you want someone to make a purchase on your behalf, add them as an authorized user to your credit card account. This also ensures no holdups at the business, where personnel can easily verify the identity of the person using the card if necessary.
  • Don’t leave your card unattended. A lost or stolen card can be used anywhere, creating a headache for merchants and customers alike.
  • Monitor your online accounts. Alert the merchant and your credit card company or bank to any fraudulent charges.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: It’s still good practice to sign the back of your debit or credit card, even if it’s no longer required, as one of several personal safety measures you can take to keep your card secure.

Trish Petak and Stella Morrison contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Image Credit: Phoderstock/Shutterstock
Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
Business News Daily Staff
Adam Uzialko is a writer and editor at business.com and Business News Daily. He has 7 years of professional experience with a focus on small businesses and startups. He has covered topics including digital marketing, SEO, business communications, and public policy. He has also written about emerging technologies and their intersection with business, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.