Much time, effort and money has been spent so far
by businesses to overcome the so-called Year
2000 problem - the inability of many computer
systems to handle dates in the next millennium.
But with less than two years to go, some retailers
and credit-card customers are getting an early
taste of the problem.
Because credit-card expiration dates look to the
future, they see the problem before others. And
while credit-card issuers have made an effort to
anticipate this one, a few kinks are showing up in
At the Market Day grocery store in Washington,
people are focused on 2000 even though it's
almost two years away. Signs alert customers to
the fact that the cash registers can't process
charges if the credit card expires in 2000. Owner
Chris Cullina isn't pleased.
"It's just the inconvenience factor," he said. "Our
computer system is slow enough as it is. And it's
just another speed bump to get people in and out of
Cullina says it's happened dozens of times: a card
expiring in 2000 ends in two zeros - which the
system reads as the year 1900 - and rejects.
Since credit-card charges make up about 40
percent of his business, he has improvised.
"We first ask for another form of payment to
expedite things," he said. "If they don't have one,
then a manager is contacted and we call in just as
quickly as we can."
Cullina and his customers are experiencing what's
known as a Year 2000 problem - which experts say
is rare in the credit card context.
"We think that it may be relatively minor," said
Cathy Hotka of the National Retail Federation.
"Retailers have been working hard to correct the
Year 2000 problem. And credit card companies
have been fairly diligent in checking to see whether
retailers will be ready. It is possible, though, that
there are going to be some problems and
apparently a few have cropped up already."
One of those problems is heading to court. A
Michigan grocery store is suing both the
manufacturer and distributor of its computer
system claiming, among other things, it can't
process cards expiring in 2000.
That puts it in the minority. According to the Visa
credit card company, 99 percent of the 14 million
locations worldwide that accept its card are now
equipped to handle an expiration date in 2000.
"Overall I think the bank card industry is in very
good shape at a fairly early date," said Greg Jones
of Visa USA. "We still have some time to go before
the year 2000. But I think it's important to
remember that because Visa cards have expiration
dates that reach into the future, we took the
opportunity some time ago to address the new
Not all card companies are issuing cards with a
2000 expiration date. But if you have one and you
have a problem, experts say it's easy to get a
replacement. Just call your issuer and ask for an
expiration date in 1999.
By Amanda Grove, CNBC