NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Credit card self-management suddenly is getting much smarter — faster and easier — and for that you can thank Discover and a few other card innovators.

But first, remember just how bad it has been. Dial back to 1990. You wake up with a Don Draper hangover, you reach for your wallet to determine the financial damages done last night, and — horrors — you must have left your credit card on the bar. What now?

In 1990, when a cardholder lost a piece of plastic what ensued was a time-consuming — often embarrassing — call into the credit company’s customer service. And maybe your card was canceled before fraud occurred. Maybe it wasn’t. But then what if you found the card on the floor — it’s not lost! Too bad. That number was canceled, a new one is in the mail. That’s especially painful if it is linked to multiple automatic payments. All those billing arrangements have to be revised or payments won’t get made, late fees will be assessed and “deadbeat” becomes your middle name, all because of a card that may or may not have been lost.

Flashforward to 2015 and know this: Discover has announced a “freeze it” tool that lets a cardholder log in via a mobile app or website and put a freeze on transactions. That way, with a few clicks and no phone call, the card is put on ice. If it surfaces in the next day or three, log back in and reactivate it. No harm done, and everything was handled in seconds.

“Consumers want more control over their cards,” Discover spokeswoman Laks Vasudevan says. “This gives it to them.”  

Introduced April 15, “freeze it” user numbers are not yet available from Discover.

Discover is not alone. Financial tech startup Malauzai Software, for instance, offers a tool to its bank customers — it claims more than 200 community banks and credit unions use its mobile banking platform — that lets consumers turn off or on their enrolled debit cards with a few taps inside a mobile app. Company co-founder Robb Gaynor says the tool is highly popular — in part, guessed Gaynor, because of consumer concerns triggered by the many credit card breaches at companies from Target to hotel operator White Lodging.

More banks are doing likewise with their debit cards, often using home-brewed tools to create on/off features.

Early comments from experts about the switches are positive. Said Thomas Nitzsche of ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions: “I think it is a great feature for consumers. Used in combination with a credit freeze, it can give consumers a great deal of security.”

Derek Handova, a business and tech writer in Silicon Valley who is your average customer and typical Discover cardholder, recently tried the new account-freeze feature.

"It is a real confidence booster," he said. "If I can log onto my Discover Card account from my computer, I can freeze my account in about 30 seconds. I then went out to the local gas station and tried to buy a roast beef sandwich and the transaction was declined. I had never been happier about having my credit card declined.”

Nick Clements, co-founder of MagnifyMoney, continued the applause: “The Discover Freeze product is just one more way for consumers to be proactive in managing fraud risk. Freezing your credit card can be a great way to prevent unwanted charges from appearing on your account.”

Kyle Stewart, travel editor for, tells a story that illustrates why he is high on the tool. “I was abroad, and I had just purchased a new wallet. In the process of switching the cards I was distracted and misplaced the old wallet with some of the cards still inside. Calling in from abroad at expensive international calling rates was not only expensive but also difficult." Often, it takes reciting 16-digit numbers several times to get a human being on the phone. After a series of account verification details, the card is only then locked and a new one issued.

"That was far more complex than it needed to be, and if I could just take out my smartphone and lock it I would much rather do that,” he says. 

Right now, says Vasudevan, Discover is the only major card issuer with this feature — American Express, MasterCard and Visa — do not yet offer it. But count on this: they will offer it, sooner rather than later, especially if pestered by anxious consumers. That means you.

— Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.