Time and Attendance Hardware: Punch Card Time Clocks 

Punch card time and attendance hardware has been around for almost a century, and can be an economical type of payroll time clock used to track employee hours accurately. Because of this, it can also prevent time theft, saving the company money. The downside is that it may not provide all the cost savings associated with other types of hardware.

How Punch Card Time Clocks Work

Punch cards are paper cards which an employee inserts into the time clock when reporting to work. The time he arrives is stamped on the card when he punches in and again when he punches out. The employee has no ability to "doctor" the time; if he arrives five minutes late, that will be reflected on the punch card. Because of this, time theft for employees claiming they have arrived at work before they actually did, for example, is eradicated.

Card based clocks can be either electronic or mechanical.  Both use electricity, but the mechanical models use a mechanical wheel to stamp the time on the card.

To calculate payroll, the payroll specialist must key in all the data from each employees cards onto a spreadsheet or other application, and then calculate the appropriate amount of pay for each employee. Not only does it take much more time to calculate payroll, but it also does not prevent another source of lost revenue for companies: keying  or transcription errors.

As noted on our main time and attendance page, the American Payroll Association says a typical company will be 92% - 99% accurate in their keying in payroll data. This can result in a significant loss of revenue, which is not found with other types of time and attendance hardware, namely swipe cards, biometric, or telephone.

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Punch card time and attendance hardware is slowly being phased out by manufacturers; and most time and attendance vendors do not offer it. If you are interested in this time of hardware, we suggest going to an office supply store, purchasing a unit, and installing it yourself. You will probably be offered a maintenance agreement, which you are free to purchase, but in our opinion, not much maintenance is needed for the first five to seven years, except for an oiling and cleaning.

Punch card time clocks do have a number of mechanical parts that may wear out after that time, but it may be more cost effective to just replace it with a new unit than have it repaired. Units typically cost from $150 to $300 each. They need access to a power source, and are usually either mounted on a wall or placed on a table/platform. Installation can be done easily.

Advantages of Punch Cards

Punch card time and attendance hardware is among the most economical of the various time keeping options available.

As with all other time and attendance methods, the most important reason to use punch cards is to allow precise timing of employee hours worked, which benefits employee and employer alike; the employee who stays late to finish up a project is compensated fairly, while the employer does not have to pay for a worker who shows up late or who leaves early.

Potential Drawbacks to Punch Card Time and Attendance Hardware

In addition to the potential loss of revenue that keying errors present, the time spent by the payroll specialist in entering data costs money itself. The larger the number of employees, the more time must be spent on data entry, and thus the greater the cost.

More modern technology such as swipe cards, biometric time and attendance, and the like automatically take the data into memory and export to payroll electronically. Reports can be generated (Approaching Overtime reports, or Tardy reports, for example) which can help companies make more efficient use of their employees hours.

Finally, punch cards do not prevent the fraud that can occur when, for example, a coworker to punches a time card for a friend if they are late. If this type of behavior is an issue at your company, you may want to consider biometric time and attendance hardware, which prevents this from happening.

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