If you just got your first credit card, or are thinking about getting one, you may be wondering – what are all the numbers on a credit card? The anatomy of a credit card is pretty simple once it’s explained to you, and we’re here to do just that.
Front Side of a Credit Card:
On the front side of a credit card, most of the human-readable information is available. You’ll see the following:
1. The Name of the Credit Card and Issuer
This is the bank, or company that issued the credit card, and it’s usually found at the very top of the card. It can be a major credit card issuer – like Visa, Discover, Mastercard, or American Express. Or it can be another company that issued the card on one of those credit card networks.
Examples might include Chase, Bank of America, Macy’s, or Home Depot. Each of those companies provides credit cards with certain perks or rewards to their members. All credit cards are issued on one of the four major credit card networks:
- Visa (world’s largest credit card network)
- Mastercard (world’s second largest credit card network)
- American Express
You can only use the credit card at a location that accepts that type of card. That’s not a problem for Visa, but it can be for the other types of cards, though not usually. You may also see a name of the credit card after the issuer. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a card that is issued by Chase bank, and called the Sapphire Reserve.
2. The Cardholder’s Name
This is the name of the person who owns the credit card, also known as the cardholder. This is almost always found on the front of the card, but some cards are now printing the cardholder name on the back.
3. The Credit Card Number
The credit card number is a unique identifier for the credit card that’s usually 16 digits long. The number is also stored in the magnetic strip and the chip on the card. It is what the credit card network uses to look up your account when you make a purchase. Credit card numbers are created and assigned by ANSI (the American National Standards Institute), and they’re not as random as they may seem.
4. EMV Chip
The EMV chip is how virtually all in-person credit card transactions now take place. Formerly, cardholders used to swipe their magnetic strip on a card reader. The EMV chip has replaced that as it is considered more secure and harder for thieves to steal information from.
The EMV chip stands for “Europay-Mastercard-Visa” and it has been adopted as the universal standard for credit card chips. All credit cards in the United States are now required to have an EMV chip, and merchants are expected to upgrade to the new standard, or be held liable for any fraud. There are several types of transactions that can be triggered by inserting your EMV chip.
- Chip and Signature – You’ll insert your card into the chip reader and will be prompted for a signature to complete the transaction
- Chip and Pin – You’ll insert your card into the EMV chip reader and will be prompted to enter your PIN (personal identification number). This is usually for transactions involving cash back, like at an ATM.
- Chip Only – You’ll insert your card and no signature or PIN will be required to complete the transaction.
5. Date of Account Opening
Not all cards will show this information, but some do. It can also be found on the back of the card occasionally, and is usually preceded by “Member since” or a similar moniker. This isn’t useful information to cardholders, or merchants, so most credit card companies leave it off.
6. Expiration Date
The expiration date of a credit card is the date at which the card can no longer be used. Credit card companies will automatically send you a new credit card prior to your existing card expiring. This is a safety feature – it ensures that a credit card can’t get too old, which helps limit the damage that fraudsters can do. It also keeps the credit card looking fresh, and ensures that you have the latest security features, and credit card designs.
When a card expires, you’ll get a new card, which will usually have a new card number, and always will have a new CVV code. Make sure that you activate your new card, and destroy your old card when your credit card expires.
The expiration date is occasionally shown on the back of a credit card, though it’s usually on the front. The date is in a two digit month, two digit year (MM/YY) format usually, though some cards use a two digit month, four digit year (MM/YYYY) format. So a card that expires in December of 2024 will usually show 12/24 as its expiration date.
7. RFID Technology
Many new credit cards have a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip in them. This allows the credit card to be simply placed near a compatible reader to make the purchase. It is used instead of a magnetic strip, or the EMV chip. RFID purchases are very convenient, and the payment method has gained popularity throughout the COVID pandemic since it’s a contactless way to pay.
The only downside to RFID technology is that it can be read by scammers if they can get close enough to the card. That’s not usually a concern because they would have to be within a few millimeters of the card, but many wallets now include RFID blocking features for additional security.
Back Side of a Credit Card:
The back side of a credit card contains important information that you’ll use to make purchases (either online or in person) on the card.
1. Magnetic Strip
This is a piece of magnetized material that works like a bar code for special magnetic scanners. It contains all of the digits of your credit card number in a magnetic machine readable format. The card can be swiped through a terminal to have the information read. This technology has been replaced by the EMV chip, though most credit cards still include it as a backup option. This is because magnetic strip technology was easy for scammers to read, and was prone to failure if the card was old, scratched up, or dirty.
In the future, cards will begin to drop the magnetic strip and only rely on EMV technology for in person transactions.
2. Signature Box
Most credit cards include a signature box that credit card holders sign in order to provide the merchant with a sample of what a valid signature from the cardholder looks like. This feature is rarely used though, and an unsigned credit card is still valid to make purchases. Some cardholder write “See ID” in the signature box in an attempt to get the merchant to verify the identity of the cardholder using a valid ID or drivers license with each purchase.
This fraud prevention tool is being phased out as it almost never served its intended purpose though. Many new credit cards do not include a signature box for this reason.
3. CVV Code
The Card Verification Value, or CVV code, is a short numerical code that’s used as a fraud prevention tool. The idea is that scammers may have a credit card number, but likely wouldn’t have the CVV code unless they had physical possession of the credit card. It’s used when making transactions that are not in person, like online or via the phone.
CVV codes are 3 digits long for Visa, Mastercard, and Discover cards. American Express, however, uses a 4 digit CVV code.
4. Customer Service Phone Number
On the back of all credit cards, you’ll find a printed customer service phone number. That’s used for cardholders who have questions, or in the case of someone finding a lost credit card. The customer service lines are helpful when reporting fraud, a credit card that’s not working, or accessing cardholder perks. It’s wise to save this number into your cell phone so if your card ever goes missing, you can call customer service and report it.
5. Hologram Security Image
Credit cards also typically include a hologram image that’s intended to prevent thieves from printing their own credit cards. In reality, this security feature isn’t checked by merchants, and so is of very limited utility in preventing fraud.
6. Other Information
Some credit card companies are rethinking the traditional layout of credit cards, and opting instead for a clean, minimalist look on the front of the card. This means that all the relevant information on a credit card can sometimes be found on the back of the card.
We hope this article will be helpful in understanding the numbers on your credit card. As we stated in the beginning, the anatomy of a credit card isn’t too complicated, once you know what you’re looking at.
Be sure to always store your credit card in a secure place, and report fraudulent activity immediately.
Credit Card Anatomy FAQ:
What is a credit card?
A credit card is piece of plastic or metal that allows the holder to access credit instantaneously to make a purchase. These are essentially tiny loans that are aggregated and billed to the consumer at the end of each month. The purchases made on a credit card must be repaid, and will accrue interest if they are not paid for in the first month.
What is a credit card number?
Your credit card number is either 15 or 16 numbers that identifies the credit card, the network it operates on and your account number. They are usually found on the front of a credit card, but look on the back if you don’t see it.
Where can I find my CVV code?
This is a 3 or 4 digit code that will be found on the back of your credit card. It provides an additional layer of security for online purchases.