How To Identify Credit Cards and Debit Cards By Number

Ashley Ferraro, Consumer Operations
Jul 27, 2023
 • 
10
 Min Read

In 2021, the Federal Reserve reported that about 84% of adults in the U.S. owned a credit card, and the total number of users is showing an upward trend. According to the Nilson Report, the number of payment cards used worldwide is expected to reach 28 billion by 2027.

Despite the widespread popularity of payment cards, users may not know much about the cards they use on a daily basis—and few people actually know that the numbers stand for something, let alone what that is.

Aiming to shed light on credit and debit card numbers, this article will:

  • Show you how to identify a credit card and debit card by number
  • Break down what the different digits in card numbers mean
  • Explain the purpose of the bank identification number

What Numbers Are on a Credit Card?

An illustration of Mastercard and Visa cards

Source: Starsi

A credit card typically contains the following numbers:

Number
Definition and Where it Is Located What It Signifies
Card number The 15- or 16-digit number at the front or back of the card, with digits arranged in groups of 4.
It contains information about the issuer, account holder, and industry.
Expiration date
The date in the MM/YY format, typically located below the card number and above or next to the cardholder’s name.
It reveals when the card expires and becomes invalid.
Card Verification Value (CVV) or Card Verification Code (CVC) The 3- or 4-digit number on the back of the credit card, below the magnetic strip.
It is an additional security measure that can help verify that the person making the transaction is the card owner.

This specific sequence and location of numbers are the standard worldwide, but there can be some minor exceptions. For example, American Express® cards typically have 15 digits, while Visa®, Mastercard®, and Discover® use a 16-digit format.

Besides these elements, a credit card contains:

  • The cardholder’s name
  • The bank’s logo
  • The payment network’s logo
  • A smart chip
  • A magnetic stripe
  • Your signature
  • A hologram
  • The bank's contact details

The Sequence of the Digits in Credit Card Numbers

The card digits and the card number order are strategically chosen and placed. They reveal crucial information about the card, the cardholder, and the card issuer. Discover what they mean in the table below:

Number
What It Is What It Means
The first digit Major Industry Identifier (MII) 
Signifies the credit card network and industry
Digits 1–8 The Issuer Identification Number (IIN) or the Bank Identification Number (BIN)
Indicates the financial institution that issued the card
Digits 7-15 Account NumberAccount Number Identifies the card and account holder
The last digit Checksum/Check Digit
Verifies the legitimacy of the other digits using the Luhn algorithm

Note that not all credit card numbers follow this exact structure. For example, the checksum on a Visa might be digit 13 instead of the last digit.

The Meaning Behind the Bank Identification Number

An image of a man placing a black credit card against a card machine

Source: cottonbro studio

The Bank Identification Number (BIN), also known as the Issuer Identification Number, is the first 4–8-digit sequence at the beginning of the card number. As you can see in the table above, the BIN contains the industry identifier and indicates the financial institution that issued the card.

The BIN system was established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Its primary purpose is to increase the efficiency and security of payments. 

The Bank Identification Number helps merchants evaluate transactions and detect fraudulent or stolen cards. When initiating a transaction, you need to enter your card number, expiration date, and CVV or CVC. The issuer then receives a request to verify the account, the availability of the funds, and the compliance with national law. The BIN gives merchants all they need to validate the information and process the transaction.

All U.S. cards have a BIN. Here are the starting numbers that correspond to the four most common card networks:

  1. American Express—3, particularly 34 or 37
  2. Visa—4
  3. Mastercard®—5
  4. Discover—6

The digits that follow these can indicate the card’s type, level, and the issuing bank’s location.

Do Credit and Debit Card Numbers Differ?

Debit card numbers work on the same principle as their credit card counterparts. The first 4–8 digits represent the BIN, while the remaining ones include the account number and checksum. As with credit cards, the order is subject to change depending on the issuer.

You can’t tell whether a card is associated with a debit or credit account based on numbers alone. Still, you can usually find that out by looking at the card as most of them have a “credit” or “debit” label somewhere on the card.

The Importance of Protecting Your Credit and Debit Card Information

A photo of two American Express cards next to a tablet with the AliExpress homepage on the screen

Source: CardMapr.nl

Card numbers can fall into the wrong hands and become misused, so protecting your data during transactions is crucial.

According to Security.org, 65% of U.S. citizens were victims of credit card fraud at least once in their lifetime. In 2022, 44% of credit card users had to deal with two or more unauthorized charges, a significantly higher number than the previous year (35%). 

Fraudsters use an array of tactics, such as phishing, pagejacking, and skimming, to steal cardholders’ personal information. Technological advancements enable fraudsters to constantly develop new and more intricate techniques. 

After acquiring the victim’s financial and personal information, the perpetrators can take advantage of it in multiple ways. They can make fraudulent transactions, withdraw funds, open new accounts, or apply for credit. These actions cause the victim financial loss and affect their creditworthiness, often resulting in long-term consequences. 

On the upside, technology has also brought about more robust and accessible security measures that help protect sensitive information—and no solution is as versatile as the virtual card.

How Virtual Cards Help Prevent Card Fraud

A photo of a payment card owner entering their card number using a laptop

Source: rupixen.com

A virtual card is one of the best ways to safeguard your financial information when shopping online. It’s an auto-generated, unique 16-digit number with its own security code and expiration date that’s connected to your bank account, debit card, or credit line. 

You can use a virtual card to make purchases without exposing your actual card number and other financial information at checkout.

Among many benefits that using virtual cards brings, the most obvious are:

  1. Security and privacy—As it stays hidden, your bank and card information is protected even if a data breach occurs.
  2. Spending restrictions—This feature helps control your spending and keep it within a budget.
  3. Merchant-locking—Some virtual card issuers allow you to tie the card to a specific merchant, which means it can’t be used elsewhere even if a hacker gains access.
  4. Instant card pausing or closing—You can typically pause and close the virtual card instantly without affecting the status of your real card or bank account.

Reinforce the Security of Your Data With Privacy Virtual Cards

Privacy Virtual Cards enable you to shop online and enhance the security of your transactions, fortifying your defense against the ever-present risk of identity theft.

While some banks offer virtual cards to registered account holders, Privacy gives you more freedom as you can request and generate Privacy Cards with your existing account, irrespective of the associated bank. After creating a card, you can lock it to a specific merchant or have it automatically close after a single purchase, minimizing the damage in case of a data breach. 

You can set a spending limit on every card or transaction and minimize the risk of getting overcharged. Privacy will automatically deny transactions that go over the designated limit. This can be beneficial for keeping your subscription services under control and ensuring merchants don’t charge you more than you’ve agreed to.

You can also pause and unpause Privacy cards at any time. If you notice any suspicious transactions on your virtual card, you can close it instantly without worrying that it will affect your actual card or bank account. This feature is also convenient for preventing unwanted subscription charges. Once you pause or close the virtual card, Privacy will block all further charge attempts. Note that you still have to reach out to the merchant and cancel the subscription directly.

Privacy is BBB®-accredited, PCI-DSS compliant, and includes various safeguards to protect users’ data. 

Stay Safe and in Control With Privacy

Here are some of the notable features Privacy users can enjoy:

  • Browser extension—Auto-fills card information at checkout, allowing you to make private and secure purchases quickly and effortlessly, without having to look for your wallet or memorize virtual card numbers.
  • Privacy mobile app—Lets you create and use your Privacy Cards on the go and notifies you as soon as a transaction occurs, which helps you identify fraudulent purchases in real time.
  • 1Password Integration—Provides a safe space for your passwords and other financial information, letting you manage it from a centralized dashboard.

How To Start Using Privacy 

Getting started with Privacy is easy. All you need to do is:

  1. Access the Signup page
  2. Fill out the required KYC information
  3. Connect a funding source (a bank account or a debit card)
  4. Request and create your first Privacy Card

With the base tier, you can generate up to 12 Privacy cards a month, which are free to use for domestic transactions. You can set spending limits, pause, and close the cards. The plan also includes access to the mobile app and browser extension.

If you opt for one of the other two tiers—Pro ($10/month) or Premium ($25/month), you’ll get additional features, such as:

  • More cards per month (up to 36 with Pro and up to 60 with Premium)
  • 1% cashback on eligible purchases, with a limit of $4,500 per month
  • Ability to mask transaction details on your bank statement
  • Priority support
  • Dedicated account management (Premium)

Privacy — Seamless & Secure Online Card Payments
Checkout securely online by creating unique virtual card numbers for every purchase. Avoid data breaches, unwanted charges, and stolen credit card numbers.
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