How to Make Sense of Your Credit Card Numbers

credit card numbersWhen you look at your credit card, chances are that you notice the numbers on the front.

The numbers on the front of the card provide an interesting amount of information — beyond just an account number attached to your finances.

When you use your credit, the numbers tell a story.

And you can know that story if you understand what the numbers on the front of your credit card mean.

Transparency with cards is important, and you can get a better idea of what to expect when you know what your credit card numbers mean.

Type of Card

When you look at the credit card numbers, you will probably notice that some of your cards start with the same number. This is because the type of credit card you have is identified by the first number, which is always a 3, 4, 5, or 6 for major cards. There are other types of cards, though, depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Here are the corresponding card types:

  • 1 or 2: Airline cards
  • 3: Travel/entertainment card, like Diner’s Club or American Express
  • 4: Visa
  • 5: MasterCard
  • 6: Discover
  • 7: Gas cards

If you are filling out an online form, and you tell the form that you are swiping a Visa card, but the number starts with a 6, your form of payment will be rejected, because your card number is for a Discover card, not a Visa.

Your Account Number

Interestingly, your account number isn’t all of the remaining digits. There are bank identifier numbers following the first number on your card, these are the numbers that indicate the bank, as well as the type of card you have.

With American Express cards, for example, the 3rd and 4th digits indicate whether you are dealing with a business card or a personal card, as well as the currency of the card.

Once you get past the bank identifier, then the account number starts. With Visa, MasterCard, and Discover, the credit card numbers are 16 digits long, and the 7th digit to the 15th digit is the account number. This leaves nine digits for your account number — providing billions of possible combinations. With American Express, there are only 15 digits to the account number.

In this case, the account number starts with the 5th digit and runs to the 11th digit. There are more digits, 12 – 14, that share the card number associated with the given account number. So, if you have multiple credit cards on your AmEx account, the 12th, 13th, and 14th digits would be different.

Check Digit

Credit card numbers also have what is known as a “check” digit. This is the final digit of the card number. This digit is used in order to help decide if the overall card number is legitimate. There is a special algorithm used to help determine whether the card number is real or fake, and that final digit is an essential part of determining that information.

When you enter a credit card number wrong, the algorithm used will indicate that you have done something wrong quite quickly, and you will be asked to re-enter your information.

Sources: How Stuff Works, MintLife Blog

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Comments | 4 Responses

  1. Miranda Marquit says

    Hey Christian, thanks for stopping by. If you look at the end of the piece, you will see that I got the information from How Stuff Works and MintLife. No need to wait on hold with a credit card issuer ;)

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