How to Identify Numbers on a Debit Card

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Have you ever wondered if there is any logic behind the numbers that banks and credit card companies put on debit and credit cards? It turns out that the numbers aren't random, but instead indicate not only the card brand but also the issuing bank. Other numbers on the front or back of a debit card include the cardholder's account number, the card's expiration date and its security code.

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How Debit Cards Work

Debit cards are connected to financial accounts, such as checking accounts. As the Consumer.gov article "Using Debit Cards" notes, while a debit card looks like a credit card, credit cards draw funds on a line of credit, while a debit card draws funds that you already have in your account.

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Identifying Debit Card Numbers

Like credit cards, debit cards are imprinted or embossed with several sets of numbers: The account number, the expiration date and the security code.

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Debit Card Account Number

Debit cards have a string of 16 numbers on them. These are usually on the front of the card, but some newer cards now have them printed on the back as a security feature. While these numbers do indicate the bank that issued the card, these numbers are not identical to your financial account number. Your debit card account number is distinct from the account that it draws on.

According to Plaid, a major payment processor, these numbers, individual and as a group, have specific meanings:

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  • The first numeral in your account number is the Major Industry Identifier. It indicates the credit/debit card network to which the card belongs. For example, if you have a Visa card, the first number is 4. If you have a MasterCard, the number is 5.
  • The following five digits belong to the financial institution that issued the card.
  • The 7th through 15th digits are the debit card account number. This number is unique to you and your account.
  • The last number is a "check digit" that is determined using a mathematical formula incorporating the card's other 15 digits. The generation of this number is a "check" to ensure that the other numbers on the card, and the card itself, are valid.

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Expiration Date

All cards have an expiration date printed or embossed on the card. After this date, the card is no longer valid for use.

Security Code

A debit or credit card security code is a feature that helps ensure the integrity of "card not present" transactions. These transactions are completed online, by mail or over the phone: The merchant does not see or handle the card. These codes make it more difficult for criminals who have accessed your account number to make unauthorized charges using your card

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Most credit card networks in the United States use a three-digit code which is typically printed on the back of the card, usually on the signature strip. American Express, on the other hand, prints a four-digit security code on the front of its cards.

Debit Card Liability

One of the primary risks of using debit cards instead of credit cards is that it is possible for a criminal to use them to drain your financial accounts, including checking and savings, of all their funds. This can present a significant problem for someone who relies on these funds for paying rent, utility bills and for other necessities.

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While the federal government does provide some protection in the case of debit card fraud, this level of protection is not as high as it is for credit card users, according to the Federal Trade Commission:

  • In the case of fraud where your card was not lost or stolen, you have 60 days after receiving your account statement to report the fraud and get your money back.
  • If your card was lost or stolen, you have to act more quickly. If you report the missing card before transactions take place, you have no liability.
  • If you report the card within two days of noticing the missing card, your liability is $50.
  • Filing the report between two and 60 days after noticing the missing card results in $500 of liability.
  • Failure to report after $600 can result in the full loss of all funds in the account.

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