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How Long Does a Contactless Payment Take to Process?

Contactless payments refer to payments made using a contactless debit or credit card, or via a smartphone or smartwatch. Payment cards which bear the contactless sign can be tapped or held over a Point of Sale (POS) terminal, which then reads and processes the data, and enables payment to be taken. Contactless is generally seen as the future of payments, due to its convenience and, more recently, safety. 

While contactless payments are quick as a flash to make, saving precious time at card machines, the time they take to clear is a different matter. The time for a contactless payment to clear depends on various factors including the machine, merchant and bank.

In this post we’ll look at some of these factors, and aim to answer the question “How long does a contactless payment take to process?”

How long does a contactless payment take to clear?

The time it takes to process a contactless payment varies according to a retailer’s bank and whether a contactless payment is taken on or offline. Online payment involves a terminal authorising payment with a bank before approving the transaction. Offline is where a bank is not contacted.

Most PIN payments are completed online, so that the transaction shows as pending right away. This means you’re instantly in the know about how much money you have available.

In contrast, contactless payments are mostly made offline, so that the issuing bank is notified later. This means that contactless payment takes longer to clear. Payments won’t show up right away, they’ll only appear once the merchant has processed the payment. This can take a while, even as long as a few days.

Contactless payment: how long to clear?

It’s impossible to accurately answer the question “How long does a contactless payment take to clear?”. What we can say however, is that larger companies are usually faster at processing payments, in many cases in less than one day.

Other companies take longer, and this can present a problem for customers. When making a payment, customers don’t know how the POS terminal they’re using is configured – so they won’t know how long it will be until their payment has cleared. This can be inconvenient, because when payments don’t show up in an account immediately, it’s difficult to see how much money is still available.  

How long does a contactless payment take to clear NatWest?

With NatWest, contactless payments can take up to 4 days to debit an account and show up on a customer’s balance. Some payments can take even longer. When a customer uses their contactless debit card, and the merchant tells NatWest about the transaction, NatWest immediately reduces the account balance. However, when it comes to smaller transactions (which are the most common contactless transactions), merchants don’t always let NatWest know in advance about a customer’s transaction.

NatWest can’t deduct this money from a balance, or show it as pending, until the merchant has made the bank aware – and this could be a few days later.

For this reason NatWest recommends customers keep their own tally of contactless payments. Then they can ensure they have enough money in the account to pay for them and prevent themselves from going overdrawn.

Contactless payment takes longer to process

The big draw for customers when it comes to contactless payments is the ease and simplicity of having only to tap a card reader to initiate a transaction. This reduces queues and improves the customer experience. One downside is that, because they’re often collected offline, it can be several days before they show up as a pending transaction.

For this reason it’s essential to keep on top the number of contactless payments you’re making to ensure your account stays in the black.

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