Breaking Down the Information You See on Your Credit Card


Your credit card number (Part 1: Card network)

The first digit or first two digits of your credit card number tell you which card payment network is used to process the purchases made with your card. Here are the possible numbers for these initial digits and their corresponding card network:

3 - Travel and entertainment card networks, including American Express (4 or 37) and Diners Club (38)
4 - Visa
5 - MasterCard
6 - Discover

If you've ever wondered by your Visa card, even from different card issuers, start with the same numbers, this is why.

It's also why online retail site are able to tell what type of card you're using after you just enter the first few digits of your card number during checkout.


Your credit card number (Part 2: Bank)

The first digits of your card number denote the card network. The next digits help identify the bank or credit card company (e.g., Bank of America, Chase, Capital One, etc.) that issues the card.

This is how you see the bank number on your card:

Visa - Digits #2 to #6 (ex. 12800)
MasterCard - Digits #2 + #3, #2 + #4 or #2 + #5 (ex. 56 or 23 -- the digits don't necessarily have to be next to each other)
America Express - No bank number. Instead, digits #3 + #4 identifies type of American Express card and currency
Discover - No known method of determining bank number

Unfortunately, there is no way to determine what number corresponds with which specific bank. Furthermore, it is possible that one bank can have multiple bank numbers.


Your credit card number (Part 3: Account number)

After your card’s bank number, your account number usually follows. It is unique to your card while the previous numbers of the card could be similar to someone else’s card.

The account numbers are found in your card number in the below methods:

Visa - Digits #7 to #12, or digits #7 to #15 (ex. 123456789)
MasterCard - Remaining digits through digit #15
American Express - Digits #5 to #11 (digits #12 to #14 make up the card number on the account)
Discover - No known method of determining account number


Your credit card number (Part 4: Check digits)

Check digits don’t hold any information. Rather, they’re numbers that serve the sole purpose of verifying that the card number is a valid one. The check digits are generated and confirmed through an algorithm, which will detect if the card number is real.

The check digits make up the ends of the card numbers:

Visa - Digits #13 to #16, or just digit #16 (ex. 0)
MasterCard - Digit #16
American Express - Digit #15 (American Express cards only have 15 digits)
Discover - No known method of determining check digits


EMV chip

More credit cards in the U.S. are getting these chips that are embedded in the card. The EMV chip (stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) provides better security over the payment data that is transmitted when you make a purchase. It’s supposed to replace the traditional magnetic strip that we’ve been using for so many years.

Currently, the chip will come in handy when you use the card for shopping abroad. In the U.S., you can expect to be able to use the chip to pay for purchases in late 2015.

See the complete list of credit cards that offer EMV chips. If your card doesn’t yet have the EMV chip, you should call your card issuer to request one.


Expiration date

The expiration date states the last date or month that the card will work in. After this date or month, the card will no longer work.

Credit card issuers will always be one step ahead of you and send you a new card a few weeks before your existing card will expire. This is more of a reason to ensure that your contact information -- given to the bank -- is always accurate.

Cards always expire three years from the month that they are issued. It helps to deter fraud.


Card network logo

This logo on the bottom right-hand corner applies to Visa and MasterCard because Discover and American Express do not really have logos to denote different versions of a card (if there are other versions of a card, they are distinguishable through the card’s overall design).

There are different versions of Visa and MasterCard that could mean that you are eligible for different card perks and benefits.

See the next slide for a better explanation on the differences.


Different card versions


Most Visa cards have a regular Visa logo while that are some that also have “Signature” printed beneath the logo. Visa Signature card offer a higher tier of card benefits -- for free -- that include no pre-set spending limit, personal concierge, various types of travel insurance, discounts and purchase at certain travel and retail partners.


There is a regular MasterCard logo, World MasterCard logo or World Elite MasterCard logo -- each have different levels of benefits. MasterCards have the recognizable red and yellow overlapping circles. World MasterCards have “World” printed above the logo while World Elite MasterCards have silver-colored overlapping circles.

World MasterCards offer the similar extra perks provided by Visa Signature. World Elite MasterCards do the same, but with more personal service and greater perks toward premium services such as flying business class, private jet charters and chauffeured car services.

  • Marina Monakova