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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.

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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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BEST FOR DINING AND GROCERY REWARDS
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

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

    Earn 60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • 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

There’s a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It’s been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you’re hitting the skies soon, you’ll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there’s no reason that the foodie shouldn’t add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x).
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel.
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months.

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories.
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits.
  • Few travel perks and protections.