What A Credit Card’s First Digit Means

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their shoes, and likewise, by looking at their credit card’s first digit. This represents the Major Industry Identifier, which is to say, the type of institution that issued the card. Here’s the breakdown.

1,2: Airlines
3: Travel/Entertainment
4,5: Banking/Financial
6: Merchandising/Financial
7: Petroleum
8: Telecommunications
0,9: Other

Whip yours out and see for yourself. — BEN POPKEN

50 Fun Facts About Credit Cards [Blueprint For Financial Prosperity]

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  1. As an aside, for anyone interested in verifying whether a credit card number is indeed correct, you can throw it through the Luhn Algorithm. This is how machines or your favorite online businesses can tell when you typo your credit card number.

  2. More specifically 34/37 = AMEX, 4 = Visa, 51-55 = Mastercard, 6 = Novus/Discover

  3. mrmysterious says:

    Two things of note from the 50 fact…

    One is that they are not allowed to have a minimum purchase amount.

    Two, they cannot require you to show ID.

  4. I found the optoutprescreen.com link very useful. Although I am too lazy to print out and mail the permanent opt out, the email optout is supposedly good for 5 years.

  5. homerjay says:

    I had the ‘can’t ask for ID” discussion with an Apple store employee just this morning when he asked for mine for no particular reason.

    I didn’t care so much but brought it up anyway. He said its because (and I REALLY don’t get this at all) the little handheald swiper unit he was using doesn’t require a signature like the POS does, even though he somehow transferred what he swiped in the handheld over to the POS and I signed on the digital capture dealie.

    If it was anywhere else I would have debated it but I’m a fanboy so I let it go. Now that I think about it, what the hell was he using that handheld deal for if the POS was right there? Ugh… I hope my digits wern’t stolen….

  6. AgentMunroe says:

    homerjay, don’t worry about it – Apple retail employees are encouraged to use EasyPay over the regular POS systems, as I guess they’re more streamlined.

  7. CaptainRoin says:

    I’m not required to show ID for credit card purchases (according to the site) correct? Other than forgetting my wallet and not actually having ID, can/should I refuse to show my ID when I make purchases? I feel like I should but I don’t just want to be an ass-hat. What does everyone else do?

  8. captainroin: If they ask, I show because it doesn’t matter to me. Any time a vendor takes a little extra time out (if it’s reasonable) to try to stop fraud, I usually don’t have a problem because it keeps the cost of their products down. If they get screwed then the credit card company doesn’t really care but customers get hurt because the vendor’s prices go up.

  9. matthew_k says:

    I personally welcome being asked for ID. I know I’m not responisble for fraudulent charges, but I still don’t want to have to go through the hassel, and I’m already telling them who I am, the ID just verifies it.

  10. Helvetian says:

    Captain, whenever I am asked, I usually just say “That’s not permitted under the Visa Card Acceptance Guidelines” and they always say ok. If they insist, I tell them it’s considered “card supression.” I will not show ID under any circumstances to anyone for a card payment, the only exception is card purchases abroad due to language barriers and confusion. However never let them photocopy, as some insist especially in Vietnam and Cambodia.

  11. ValkRaider says:

    Actually, they can require whatever they want. They can require a minimum purchase, show of ID, or for you to take off your shirt and let them tweak your nipple.

    Although some places charge extra for that.

    But the point is, you are welcome to leave and shop at another merchant which has a less restrictive policy. And you are welcome to inform the credit card company that the merchant is violating their terms.

    However I know from experience that it does not matter. I have complained to the card companies several times about merchants and minimum purchase requirements, and the merchants never change their policy.

    However I am not sure I understand the opposition to showing ID. I *like* merchants that would help prevent fraud. But maybe I am just odd… If you don’t want to show an ID use cash…

  12. viriiman says:

    I’m a little confused. Is this for credit cards with a major logo, or for all credit cards (including store cards)?

  13. Helvetian says:

    Actually, they can require whatever they want. They can require a minimum purchase, show of ID, or for you to take off your shirt and let them tweak your nipple.

    No they can’t, the rules are there to protect cardmembers and most importantly, the card association business. When you talk the talk, they almost always back down even small Mom & Pop places.

    I did have one encounter that escalated. I was out of state, and left my wallet at a friends home but did have my minicard Visa with me. We went to the supermarket, it was just around $35 worth of food. The cashier asked for ID, I actually didnt have it but never said this. She pointed to a sign that said “All CC purchases require ID. Management.” She called the manager over, who insisted on ID. I said, “demanding ID as a condition of the sale violates Visa’s card acceptance guidelines. Would you like me to call Visa-911 Service?”

    He said fine and took my card as payment. That whole situation took but 25 seconds. And I will call Visa-911, and pass them the phone and never had a problem.

  14. Helvetian says:

    viriiman, I was wondering the samething. It must be store cards. I know some of the meanings behind AmEx numbers, part of the numbers reveal whether you are the account holder or an authorized user, whether it’s your first or 11th replacement card, your opening date, etc.

  15. viriiman says:

    If it’s supposed to be store cards, then I have some that don’t work. My coworker has a “Sony Financial Services” credit card that starts with a 2 (which should be Airlines). Does this mean we can expect the Sony airline soon?

  16. ValkRaider says:

    No they can’t, the rules are there to protect cardmembers and most importantly, the card association business. When you talk the talk, they almost always back down even small Mom & Pop places.

    Yes, they can.

    There is no law that requires them to accept you as a customer. They can have you ARRESTED for TRESPASSING.

    You don’t believe me? Push the wrong clerk too far and you WILL be taking a ride in a police car.

    In your experience you have been lucky. There is no requirement in any way shape or form that a merchant let you call Visa 911 and hand them a phone. None.

    Now, you CAN complain to Visa, and let Visa take it up with the merchant. But that will be after you post bail.

    Once, in a mall in Alabama I was picked up by police because the Taco Bell would not accept a $2 bill. The ignorant clerk insisted there was no such thing as a $2 bill, and her manager agreed. I did not leave, they called mall security who took me to their office and transferred me to local police. After that the police agreed they were stupid, the officer apologized, let me go, and I called Taco Bell. However mall security would not let me come back in the mall that day (probably for fear I would throttle the clerk).

    The people at Taco Bell lost their jobs – but I still got a ride in a police car.

    The merchant merely has BUSINESS CONTRACT with another company for credit card services. Whether or not they are in compliance with that agreement does not impact their ability to refuse service to you for any purpose they see fit.

    Now, in this day and age – putting your ability to accept credit cards at risk would be a huge mistake from a business viewpoint. But lets not confuse a contractual agreement between two separate parties, and a legal requirement.

    I lost another similar battle once. If a place accepts checks, they have to accept a check no matter what it looks like. There is no law that says that a check HAS to look like what we commonly have in our checkbooks. So to test the theory, I tried to write my account number and routing number on a napkin, sign it and use it as a check. They would not accept it, no matter what. I contacted the bank and the bank informed the people that it would have been a perfectly valid check. At that point they decided to stop accepting checks for payment. But they still didn’t sell me the merchandise.

    But wow this discussion went way off course. Maybe I should bring up Amy’s Ice Cream. ;)

  17. Michael Bauser says:

    ValkRaider, you’re so wrong about the ID requirement that MasterCard actually has a webpage on their website to prove you wrong: MasterCard’s merchant violations page. The standard MasterCard Merchant Agreement does not allow merchants to require ID. Period. (I suppose a store could negotiate an exception, but I don’t know of one. If a store told me they had, I’d demand to see it in writing.) Minimum purchase requirements and card surcharges are also prohibited by the Merchant Agreement.

    Page 29 of Visa’s merchant agreement (Warning: Giant PDF) says that retailers can ask for ID, but can’t require it.

    I don’t feel like looking up the other companies’ rules, but what I remember (from my retail days) is consistent with the BFP article.

    By the way, know what really sucks about that article: IT DIDN’T CITE EVERYTHING. Seriously. This is the World Wide Web. Somebody tell that guy he can link to things!

  18. Helvetian says:

    There is no law that requires them to accept you as a customer. They can have you ARRESTED for TRESPASSING.

    I think you are being too dramatic about the situation. I would never engage in a transaction that would later escalate into a police encounter. You must prudent in your judgement, clearly you were not.

    Your situation is sad, and it seems you let it escalate too far. And all over a $2 bill? I would not and would have just left the store. I realize that $2 bills are rare, and thus perhaps the person was ill-informed. So instead of escalating and getting arrested, I would have used another payment method or paid with a more common demonination of currency such as two one dollar bills.

    Your two examples are poor, and make little sense. You certainly have too much free time on your hands to concoct that inane check story. Moving on.

  19. Avery says:

    Hey ValkRaider, are you saying you’re this guy?

    http://www.snopes.com/business/money/tacobell.asp

    Congratulations, you’re famous!

  20. CaptainRoin says:

    Ok, I can understand pfblueprint’s point. But I’m not entirely convinced that the store would be the one to pay for fraudulent charges, isn’t that why you have protection from the Credit Card company (and why they make 35Billion a year)? The card company provides insurance.

    I don’t mind showing my ID, its not like it’s that much work, but I’m not in favor of something that provides false security. What does showing my ID really do anyway? My sig changes so much (I’m a southpaw) that the one on my DL, credit card, and receipt would more than likely be different. I have never had anyone question me.

    Plus, there are actually few stores that do this. Cub foods is one. I can see BestBuy if I buy a $3500 TV but $100 on groceries?

    It seems to me that this is one of those did-it-in-the-past so it must be good/right type of things. To me it doesn’t seem like it protects me one bit. Thoughts?

  21. bk says:

    I do not understand why people get upset when asked for ID’s with their CC’s. It seems to me that they are just looking for a reason to be angry with a company.

    As somebody who works in retail, I hardly think I’m doing any evil by requiring to see an ID with a credit card. 99% of the time, my customers comply. Sometimes they’re even apprecitive of it.

    Checking ID is a saftey net for both Joe consumer, and Bill bigcompany. The only reason that MC has that rule in their TOS is to make sure that people can spend even more money with their plastic. These people that get loud and combative about it are only contributing to the ever-growning problem of credit-card fraud.

  22. bk says:

    Capt. Roin:

    Checking an ID lets us match a name to a face. I could give a shit about what you sign, as long as you look like whoever the state says you are.

  23. Helvetian says:

    bking: DO you have the neccessary tools to ascertain that my ID is infact legitimate? Ever hear of fake IDs?

    Asking for ID is fine, but demanding is not. It’s not allowed and when a retailer demands it, that’s where the problem comes in. The associations have rules in place for a Code 10 or a suspicious transaction, and it’s not to demand ID. In my experience 99.99% don’t insist, however it’s always that incompetent, ill-informed 0.01% that do!

    What about using someone else’s cards? MC/Visa are transferable, so if I used another card, my ID would not match. The point is for merchants to protect themselves, they need to make sure the signature reasonably matches and capture neccessary information to reduce risk. Showing ID to a cashier, won’t refute a chargeback in the case of fraud. So why bother?

    The point is to make using your card easier, that’s why we have keychain cards (in case yo forgot your wallet, which would have your ID) and signature-less PayPal and ExpressPay options. Demanding ID is passe and archaic, just follow the Card Acceptance Guidelines and all will be well.

    And last, you said you could give a (expletive) about signatures, but that is the most crucial element to protecting the merchant. If the ID matches, but the signature doesn’t, when the dispute hits, the bank won’t accept “$3 p/hr Jimbo checked the ID and it matched” as a response to the chargeback. Instead they want to hear “card present/swiped, signature match.” The merchant will lose the dispute. So again, why bother?

    The rules are there for a reason, no reason for any store to change them. Whether cash or card, there is no need to implicate additional conditions to the sale. It’s inconvenient and doesn’t serve any purpose.

  24. Helvetian says:

    Correction, not PayPall but PayPass. My apologies.

  25. Michael says:

    When I used to work retail, usually some 1 out of 4 people had written “Ask for ID” on the back of their card rather than their signature, so merchant guidelines or not I had to ask for identification out of respect for our customers’ wishes.

    Many times customers thanked me, but occasionally I would get someone in a hurry who clearly regretted that they’d ever written that.

  26. bk says:

    “DO you have the neccessary tools to ascertain that my ID is infact legitimate? Ever hear of fake IDs?…..It’s inconvenient and doesn’t serve any purpose.”

    Unless you count the holograms printed into id cards, no, I don’t have any ID verifying tools. That doesn’t, however, make checking ID’s useless. If some crook gets ahold of your wallet, it would take a bit of effort to make a decent fake ID. A lot more effort than it’s worth to use a (soon to be cancelled) stolen CC. It’s another degree of saftey, and all you have to do is grab a second card, located half an inch from your CC.

  27. Helvetian says:

    bking: it’s not a matter of whether the card is available or not, the point is cut n’ dry. It’s against the Card Acceptance Guidelines to demand ID as a condition of the sale. Notice how you never addressed my other valid points. It’s fine to ask, but don’t demand it. You’re going way off here with your many what-ifs. Well “what-if” I lost my card, never realized it, someone got a fake ID made and used it? Come on, you need to be a little realistic here.

    Also my state does not use holograms for State ID and every state has their own authenticity values to ascertain that it is authentic. Some holograms, some raised seals, stamps, color-changing panels, etc. Unless you know every single state guideline, there would be no way to truly determine if the ID was valid. Anyway your point fails, because it doesn’t hold with a dispute and that’s the most critical element to protect the merchant. Merchants don’t do it as a service to consumers, they do it to protect themselves but in the end it doesn’t matter because there is NO option on a chargeback response form that says “One of my hourly cashiers saw the cardmember’s ID and confirmed it.”

  28. Falconfire says:

    ValkRaider, you’re so wrong about the ID requirement that MasterCard actually has a webpage on their website to prove you wrong: MasterCard’s merchant violations page. The standard MasterCard Merchant Agreement does not allow merchants to require ID. Period. (I suppose a store could negotiate an exception, but I don’t know of one. If a store told me they had, I’d demand to see it in writing.) Minimum purchase requirements and card surcharges are also prohibited by the Merchant Agreement.

    Page 29 of Visa’s merchant agreement (Warning: Giant PDF) says that retailers can ask for ID, but can’t require it.

    I don’t feel like looking up the other companies’ rules, but what I remember (from my retail days) is consistent with the BFP article.

    By the way, know what really sucks about that article: IT DIDN’T CITE EVERYTHING. Seriously. This is the World Wide Web. Somebody tell that guy he can link to things

    But, as he pointed out those are simply contracts they made with the card companies. That in no way means they have to hold to that and I have many times seen fights break out or even people arrested when I worked in a mall BECAUSE people didnt hold to their cardholders agreement, people called them on it, and Mall security trumps piece of paper from Virginia 100% of the time.

    In the end, yes they probably would have lost the ability to accept those cards, but the person who called them on it still got to go down to security and still got kicked out of the mall.

    And by the sheer number of times I saw it happen at Woodbridge, and the sheer number of time I saw it happen with the same merchants in a 5 month period, I can assure you the card companies could give a rats ass.

  29. Sudonum says:

    FalconFire, that was also my thought. Just because it’s in a merchants agreement doesn’t mean that the merchant is going to follow the contract. And as seen in other posts on this and other websites, Visa and Mastercard apparently aren’t too concerned about enforcing it.

  30. vavavoom says:

    I’ll bet that not one person here owns a retail store. I do. The first two years my store was open, we followed the Merchant Guidelines to the tee. Guess what? All of the major credit card companies end up screwing me with all the charge backs from cards that they sent to tweekers.

    If someone got a fraudulant credit card and used it at my store, I was SOL. I had 3-10 charge backs per month.

    4 years ago, we implemented the policy of not accepting any credit card without a matching ID. I’ve only had one charge back since then. I don’t care if It’s against their policy. I’m going to ask for ID and NOT take the sale. Visa/Mastercard/American Express don’t care one bit about your security, becase, they screw the merchant. If they really cared about security they would implement all cards with a photo ID and signature verification.

    Everyone who’s bitching about the merchant requiring your ID — I hope you all have some ass-hat steal your identity…

  31. Helvetian says:

    Whether the establishment does it, is besides the fact. The primary point is, it’s not allowed. I will however say that violations are reviewed and a team does handle it. Call Visa-911 or MasterCard Global Services to file a report. American Express is very aggressive with Merchant violations and does crack down.

    If everyone had this nonchalant attitude that because everyone does it, it’s ok; more merchants will continue to impose surcharges, restrictions or other demands when you present your card for payment.

    The agreement you have with your bank, is that if you have the available credit, your card will be honored and accepted at all merchant locations worldwide that bear the card association logo as a payment method. The agreement with the merchant bank and merchant indicates that said merchant must Honor All Cards and not disccriminate, nor refuse to honor a card when properly presented as payment.

    I am not suggesting anyone to do as someone else did, and get yourself arrested when asserting your rights or pointing out the terms. If a merchant absolutely refuses, then I would not make the purchase but would report it. I am not going to demand they accept my card and start a war. However it’s suitable and reasonable to say it’s not allowed. One time a manager said it was allowed, I offered to call Visa-911 for him and he said “I will take your word for it, and will find out later. For now, I will accept your card.”

    I am very nice about it, the only time I stand firm is at BestBuy – where sometimes they do ask for ID. Even then I wouldn’t get myself escorted out or arrested, but I would talk to the manager and ask if he could review it. Pick your battles, and move on. However again it’s not allowed, nor discouraged. This is why the associations have online forms, help desks and all card issuers have a policy to accept merchant violation complaints.

  32. Helvetian says:

    I forget which one, but one does allow to “ask” for ID. However none permit ID as a condition of the sale, for the reasons I listed above regarding disputes and how this isn’t a proper response to a chargeback. I get asked all the time, I simply say no thank you, and 99.99% they don’t press it. Some will and that’s where the situation changes, however I have never been arrested, escorted or thrown out for refusing to do so. And every single time I have offered to dial Visa-911, they have always said nevermind, we will accept.

    Most cashiers don’t care, and when refused, won’t push it.

  33. CaptainRoin says:

    bking:Checking an ID lets us match a name to a face. I could give a shit about what you sign, as long as you look like whoever the state says you are.

    ok, I know it’s different but, I can buy anything on the internets w/o ID, and I know if I stole a CC that would be the first place I would head.

    It has nothing to do with being angry at a company and everything to do with pointless antiquated NON security. It’s not protecting anyone from anything so why do it?

    bking: you’ve worked in retail (just as I have) can you give me one time that you have refused a card because someone’s sig or ID didn’t match? I never have.

  34. Falconfire says:

    However again it’s not allowed, nor discouraged. This is why the associations have online forms, help desks and all card issuers have a policy to accept merchant violation complaints.

    You can not allow it all you want, but it seems like even you point out its the same people (bestbuy is a big one) all the time

    IF these guys where so keen on going after these violations, why is it Best Buy routinely does it?

    Face it, the card companies DONT care, especially when they get a huge chunk of revenue out of it.

  35. TPIRman says:

    I’m impressed that ValkRaider tried to pass off the old $2 bill/fast-food place legend as his own experience — not even opting for the tried-and-true “some guy I know” feint. Still, I buy his overall argument because he used more capital letters than everyone else. Caps Lock: the BEST WAY to MAKE YOUR CASE.

    As for the linked article, my favorite item was this: “Visa actually stands [for] Visa International Service Association.” It reminded me of the old Dilbert strip (and countless similar jokes) in which a guy is working on “The TTP Project.” Where TTP stands for The TTP Project, naturally.

  36. Helvetian says:

    BestBuy’s Corp Policy is to ask for ID for select purchases (I assume high value) however a customer can refuse. This is OK.

    Thank you Captain, I agree with you.

  37. ValkRaider says:

    Avery & Johnny:

    I had never seen that story until you sent the Snopes link. My and my wife’s response was “HOLY CRAP!”

    That is in fact my story, although it did not happen exactly like that one. There was no safe and no handcuffs and I was not actually arrested as the police officer thought it was stupid. I was however kicked out of the mall.

    I am contacting Snopes to add to the information for them. My occurance was in 1995 or 1996 in Montgomery, Alabama at the Eastdale Mall.

    I am a little freaked out though…

  38. kim says:

    All Amex’s begin with 3.
    All MC’s begin with 5. Even debit cards.
    All Visa’s begin with 4. Even debit cards.
    All Discover Cards begin with 6.

    Other retailers/gas cars have varying numbering schemes.

  39. pvtxtyc says:

    Well I am thrilled to hear that you got two part-time Taco Bell workers fired from their thankless dead end job.

    I am sure the $13,000 the company saved on the combined salary of the ignorant duo was re-invested in a more rigorous training program that includes in-depth training on monetary identification and historical legal tender-types. Hmm… Maybe they’ve never seen a $2 bill because they’re lucky to be able to have a $1 bill.

    If I show you a picture of a heart I wonder if you would be just as skeptical.

  40. Deusfaux says:

    I am curious to know what the procedure in retail is then, when a cashier is faced with a signature that isn’t matching the credit card’s signature to some degree they feel is suspicious. Typically I would expect the merchant to request ID at that point… but apparently that is a violation of the merchant agreement, so what exactly should the merchant be doing? Is the only option to call the card issuer?

  41. Helvetian says:

    Deus, the proper procedure is called a Code 10. And steps exist to properly ascertain the identity of the cardmember and their authorization to use the card. This is usually accomplished by contacting the card issuer. It is rarely done, as most cashiers would pass the charge through.

  42. scootinger says:

    As everyone has said this is inaccurate or way outdated – Wikipedia has a good article/table on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_card_numbers

  43. FredTheMole says:

    @vavavoom:
    I own a small business as well and I can vouch for the fact that accepting credit cards is one of the biggest financial hassles we have. Not only do you have to agree to 35 pages of regulations that make you about 99.99% responsible for anything that might happen, but you also lose about 2-4% of your gross credit sales to processing fees. In my opinion credit cards are just about the worst things for the economy. If you think about it, all merchants that accept the card must prepare for everyone to use a card, which means they must inflate their prices as if everyone was going to pay with a card, which in the end means that a merchant who accepts a credit card is going to have prices 2-4% higher than necessary just because they are taking credit cards. Of course if they didn’t accept credit cards then they wouldn’t get the customers, so it is really an awful vicious cycle.
    /end rant