How to understand the numbers of a credit card

We explain to you what the numbers that come printed on cards mean

The meaning of the numbers on credit and debit cards is a typical source of confusion. Credit and debit cards are one of the most utilized everyday objects, and yet users don't normally really know how they work or, for example, why they have that long series of numbers.

There is an explanation for everything and in the case of credit cards, the numbering has to do with identification and security reasons. Let's look at them in detail to get a better understanding of one of the most useful tools that we can carry in our pocket.

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The numbers on a credit card, one by one

The numbering of credit cards is based on an international regulation, specifically, ISO/IEC 7812-1:2006. In it, it is stipulated what each of the digits you can find on these cards is for. And no, they are not random numbers.

The first digit

The overwhelming majority of credit cards have 16 digits, although depending on the company that operates it, it can have up to 19.

In any case, the first digit of all credit cards identifies the sector the company that issues the card belongs to.

  • 1 and 2: Airlines.
  • 3: Travel and entertainment (including American Express).
  • 4: Visa
  • 5: Master Card
  • 6: Discovery Card
  • 7: Oil industry.
  • 8: Telecommunications.
  • 9: Digit reserved for use of the country in which the card operates.

The first seven numbers on a credit card 

Together with the first digit, the 6 remaining digits make up the so-called INN (Issuer Identification Number), the card's identification number. This consists of a private code that includes information about the card issuer and the geographical area it is from.

The remaining digits (and the last one)

From the seventh digit onward, we find information relating to the cardholder. For security reasons, the way in which the different banking institutions assign this numbering is confidential.

The last digit deserves special mention, as it ensures that all the other digits of the card tie-in. This control digit works using the Luhn algorithm, which helps to check that all the other numbers of the credit card are correct.  

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Additional security measures

Rounding out the identification and security of credit cards, we find the expiration date. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this item will be requested when making an online or telephone purchase.

On the back of the credit card is the CVC code (Card Verification Code), also known as CVV, CW2, CVC2 or even CID. This code increases the security of using a credit or debit card, as it only appears on the actual card, so it can only be used by the person who physically holds the card.

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