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What do the numbers on your credit card mean?

Sept. 05, 2022
4 min read
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As you look for strategies to increase the number of your credit card rewards points, have you ever wondered about the numbers that form the foundation for all that earning potential? Each of those figures plays a role in each purchase you make. They help merchants know that your card is real, and they help banks process those transactions in a matter of seconds.

So what do all these numbers actually mean? Today, we're going to break down the parts of a credit card number.

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The numbers

Let’s start with the first digit. This is called the Major Industry Identifier (MII) and helps identify the card's network:

  • 3 — American Express
  • 4 — Visa
  • 5 — Mastercard
  • 6 — Discover

The next four or five digits on the card indicate the bank that issued the card. Together with the MII, these make up the first five or six digits of your credit card number and are known as the BIN (Bank Identification Number) or the IIN (Issuer Identification Number).

The remaining digits are unique to you: they make up your actual individual account number.

The final digit of your credit card number, though, is actually not part of the account. It’s known as a check digit, which is used to verify that your card is real. When your credit card is processed, a system known as the Luhn algorithm uses this last digit to ensure that your card number is a real one.

So if, for example, your card number were 5432 1234 5678 9101, your number breakdown would be:

  • The first digit (5) indicates that your card is part of the Mastercard network.
  • The next five numbers (43212) indicate the bank that issued your card; together, those first six numbers (543212) make up the BIN.
  • The remaining numbers (3456789101) are your individual account number.

The divide

With some clear methods behind the credit card number madness, you might also wonder if there is a reason your credit card number is generally divided into groups of four numbers.

The answer? Simplicity. The number is divided this way to make it easier to read your number aloud over the phone, according to Mark Nelson, a senior vice president at Visa.

Expiration date and CVV

Both the expiration date and the CVV, or security code, serve as additional security features on your card. When you place an order over the phone or online, you will almost certainly be asked to give these numbers, which help ensure that you are actually holding the card in your hand at the time of your purchase.

OSCAR WONG/GETTY IMAGES

The CVV (card verification value) is a number three or four digits long. On a Visa or Mastercard, the CVV is usually on the back of the card. An American Express card, however, has its four-digit CVV on the front of the card.

Note that an American Express card may also have a three-digit code on the back. This is known as a CID (card identification data) number and is an added security measure. Since it is not the CVV, though, your card will be declined if you try to use it instead of the actual CVV on the front of the card.

Bottom line

While they might seem random at first glance, all the numbers on your credit card serve a specific purpose. You don't need to think about them in order to reap maximum benefits from your card, but it's nice to know the purpose behind those powerful little numbers.

Additional reporting by Emily Thompson.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
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Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases