Why your credit card has many numbers and what they mean

Why your credit card has many numbers and what they mean

Credit cards can have up to 16 digits and each one of them has a specific meaning, depending on its location, so that they are unique and non-transferable for their owners.

There are a large number of people in the United States who cannot live without credit cards. Interestingly, many do not even understand what the numbers on their card are and what they mean. It is understandable, the important thing is the capacity that they offer us to buy, but it is good that you know the parts of the best friend of your wallet.

Each of the numbers on your credit card has its own meaning, depending on its location. The important thing is that each combination is different, along with other security digits, to make your card unique and non-transferable. These numbers are extremely important, as you already know, because they are the ones you use when making your purchases online.

If you haven’t counted them, your credit card can have up to 16 digits (which is why it’s so annoying to type each one, trying to avoid mistakes). Here’s a fun fact: a trillion plastics have a 1 followed by 12 zeros. Logically, this combination could not be enough to distinguish the plastics, so each of the digits ends up having its own meaning.

We explain the meaning of your card explained in reading order from left to right.

First Number: Major Industry Identifier (MII)

The first number on your credit card is an identifier for the company or industry that provides the card. It is known as the Major Industry Identifier (MII). These are the nine MII numbers:

1: Airlines
2: Airlines and financial
3: Travel and entertainment, including American Express
4: Visa
5: MasterCard
7: Oil
8: Health and communications
9: Government

For example, if you have a Visa card, your credit card number will start with the number 4; if it was from an airline, then it would start with the number 1.

Credit card issuer numbers

Banks use up to the next five numbers to identify the credit card company or issuer. American Express specifies the type of card and currency, using digits three and four.

Your account number

The remaining numbers, except for the last digit, are your account number and are specific to you. When you get a new credit card number, for example when you lose your card, only these numbers and the last digit will change.

The last number: surprise

The last number of your credit card is special. It is the only number that is determined by a formula, called the Luhn algorithm, using the previous numbers on your card.

Today, and fortunately, if you misspell a number on your credit card when you enter it online, an online validator knows that you didn’t enter a valid credit card number, because the number won’t be correct according to the algorithm. of Luhn. This is favorable for consumers, since they do not find out until the end of the purchase that they made a mistake in any of their digits.


An extra number, independent from your credit card number, and which works as a security means, is the card verification value or, popularly known, as CVV.

If you have a Visa, Mastercard, or Discover card, the CVV is three digits and is located on the back of your card, to the right of the signature strip area. On an American Express card, the CVV is four digits long and is located on the front of the card, just above and to the right of your credit card number.

The CVV’s main purpose is to prove to online merchants that you actually have the card. Someone who stole your credit card number, but not the CVV and expiration date, would not be able to make purchases online. Be very careful who sees your physical credit card or where you enter your account number, including your expiration date and CVV. If you enter bogus portals and enter these numbers, you put your account at risk for identity theft.

Samuel Edwards
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