Credit Card FAQ

How Long is a Credit Card Number?

7 June 2011 by CreditCardsCo™

A credit card number is normally 16 digits long, but some cards like American express are 15 digits long. The actual credit card length varies with the individual company, but all credit card companies are required to follow certain ISO standards for the length of credit card number.

The MasterCard has 16 digits, and Visa is 13 to 16 digits long. The maximum length of any card is 19 digits. A credit card's 16 digits are divided into groups of four. There is also an expiration date on the front, and a three digit numbers on the back of the card.

What Does A Credit Card Number Mean?

The first digit of every credit card is the MII (Major Industry Identifier) digit which denotes the specific industry.

  • The 0 is for securities
  • 1 and 2 are for airlines
  • 3 is for travel and entertainment
  • 4 and 5 is for banking and finance
  • 6 or 7 is for merchandising
  • 7 is for Petroleum
  • 8 is for healthcare and telecommunications
  • 9 is for state owned or national entities

The MII (Major Industry Identifier) standards or codes listed above are made by the American Bankers Association. The increase of the credit card culture has made these codes common knowledge but they were intended to be kept confidential during creation.

The first six digits of credit card number are known as the IIN (issuer identification number), which also includes the MII digit. These digits represent the institution that issues the credit card to the card holder. The IIN is kept secret as an extra security measure taken to protect against fraud.

After the MII is the Individual Account Identifier which makes up the rest of the digits on the cards except the last one. The last digit is called the checksum or Validity Check Code.

What Length Of Credit Card Numbers Is Used By Which Companies?

The number of digits some of the credit card companies are using:

  • American Express: 15 digits
  • Bank of America: 16 digits
  • Maestro: 12-19 digits
  • Solo: 16, 18, or 19 digits
  • Switch: 16, 18, or 19 digits
  • Visa: 16 digits

Why Does The Credit Card Number Need To Be 16 Digits Long?

The Individual Account Identifier is assigned randomly with a range of 7 digits to 12 digits. The higher the number of digits, the harder it is to breach the security and indentify the number. The last digit which is known as Validity Check Code or Checksum assures the security as it uses an algorithm to validate whether the credit card number is correct or not.

What Is An Alternative Credit Card Number?

Controlled Payment Numbers are disposable credit card numbers used to prevent online credit card fraud. The concept of Controlled Payment Numbers is to assign a credit card holder another number to be used instead of the real credit card number. This way the customer does not reveal the long credit card number online and remains safe in case someone tries to steal their card number.

The Controlled Payment Numbers are designed to use only for a single time and expire after a limited time. A lot banks like Bank of America and Citibank are offering this service implementing the technology in their own way.

Final Word

This article explains how and why the credit card number is 16 digits long, how the digits are divided into groups and their significance in tracking the credit card numbers, the security during online transactions, and alternate of credit card numbers to avoid credit card numbers thefts online.

Other Readings

Credit Card FAQ




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