Why credit card signature requirements are now a thing of the past

Credit card signatures are now going the way of old-fashioned carbon copy slips: discarded in favor of streamlined transactions. 

The three major credit card companies will stop requiring signatures on purchases this week, with MasterCard, American Express and Discover relaxing their policies on Friday and Visa set to do so on Saturday. It doesn't mean that you won't be asked to sign receipts ever again, but the change is likely to result in fewer of your John Hancocks landing on the dotted line.

The reason for the change is due to technology and changing consumer habits. In an October blog post about the pending changes, MasterCard said that more than 4 out of 5 transactions in North America didn't require a signature at checkout. 

Getting rid of the signature requirement "is another step in the digital evolution of payment and payment security," MasterCard executive vice president Linda Kirkpatrick wrote in the blog post. 

Investing in other ways to combat fraud

That might seem like a contradictory statement -- after all, signatures were thought to protect consumers against fraud. But most stores don't check the signature on the back of a card against what the customer scrawls on the dotted line, partly because most use point-of-sale terminals where consumers swipe their cards. Store clerks today very rarely handle the cards themselves. 

"No longer requiring people to sign for credit card purchases sounds like a much bigger deal than it actually is," said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, in an emailed statement. "The truth is that Americans have already been signing for credit card purchases far less often over the years because banks know that signatures just aren't an effective means of combatting fraud."

Fraud remains a major issue, but credit-card companies are investing in chips, biometrics and other ways to prove a customer's identity. 

Credit card companies "have realized that signatures just don't do the job," Schulz said. "After all, it's far easier to forge someone's signature than it is to know their PIN."

Why credit-card companies say it's a benefit to get rid of signatures

Credit card companies want consumers to use their cards more frequently. In their view, getting rid of transaction hassles may be one way to accomplish that. 

"Convenience is also a large part of what consumers want when they are shopping and paying," MasterCard's Kirkpatrick wrote. 

Getting rid of signatures will "speed customers through checkout, provide more consistent experiences for every customer with every purchase and should decrease costs associated with safely storing signatures," she added. 

Generational changes

Millennials are now the biggest generation in the country -- and it turns out they don't like writing in script, according to BrandChannel, a website about branding. About 41 percent of millennials say they dislike writing in script, compared with only 24 percent of Americans over 55.