Credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard don't provide you with credit. They provide credit processing services to the banks that give you credit. These banks give you credit cards tied to the processing companies' networks.
When you get a card that offers you different deals, such as reward points or cash back, those come from the card issuer (the bank, credit union or other financial institution offering you the credit).
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You can determine the credit card type you have from the beginning digits on your cards, which might be handy for you when you're thinking about making or accepting a charge without having access to the actual piece of plastic that is the card.
Consider also: You Can Be Too Frugal With Your Credit Cards
Credit Card Companies vs. Issuers
Companies like Visa and Mastercard don't offer credit to their card holders. They are card networks that help banks, credit unions and other lenders offer credit to individuals and businesses by processing card transactions. For example, if you have several credit cards, you might have a Visa and Mastercard that is issued by Capital One, Citi or Chase bank.
To make things more confusing, you might have branded cards, such as those issued by department stores or airlines. Those companies simply offer shopper benefits, adding one more layer between you and Visa or Mastercard.
Discover and American do issue their own cards, and you'll get billed by Discover and American Express, not a bank. These two companies are both card processing networks and card issuers.
How to Identify Card Type by Number
Each card issuer/network has its own unique starting digit that acts a bit like a credit card identifier. The first digit is known as a Major Industry Identifier, explains Forbes magazine, with the first six digits (Issuer Identification Number) identifying the card issuer (bank, credit union or other financial institution).
- Cards starting with 3 = American Express
- Cards starting with 4 = Visa
- Cards starting with 5 = Mastercard
- Cards starting with 6 = Discover
Consider also: Four Types of Charge Accounts
Other Numbers to Review
Your card also comes with a security code. Different companies use different types of codes. You might see three letters on the back of your card (starting with "C"), followed by a three- to four-digit security number. American Express puts its security code on the front of its cards. These different codes are known as:
- Card Verification Code – CVC (Mastercard)
- Card Verification Value – CVV (Visa)
- Card Verification Data – CVD (Discover)
- Card Identification Number – CID (Discover/Amex)
- Card Security Code – CSC (Amex)
In addition to security codes, your card also come with expiration dates. These protect users if they improperly disposed of old cards or expired cards get lost or stolen. They also add another layer of protection against fraud, as some merchants and many websites require that you provide the card number, security code and expiration date to make a transaction.
In addition, when you receive a replacement card, you might see that the last four digits of your card have changed. If this happens, you'll need to make sure you update the card number on all autopay accounts you have and/or contact other merchants who have your card information on file.
This will help you avoid having transactions declined, being charged penalty fees, having services cut off or dealing with other problems that occur with declined cards. When you get a new card (with a new expiration date), your card number usually stays the same, but it's a good idea to check your card number to make sure.