The front of your credit card has a lot of numbers -- here's an example of what they might mean.

Illustration by Rosaleah Rautert

What Credit Card Numbers Mean

Although phone companies, gas companies and department stores have their own numbering systems, ANSI Standard X4.13-1983 is the system used by most national credit-card systems.

Here are what some of the numbers stand for:

The first digit in your credit-card number signifies the system

  • 3 - travel/entertainment cards (such as American Express and Diners Club)
  • 4 - Visa
  • 5 - MasterCard
  • 6 - Discover Card

The structure of the card number varies by system. For example, American Express card numbers start with 37; Carte Blanche and Diners Club with 38.

  • American Express - Digits three and four are type and currency, digits five through 11 are the account number, digits 12 through 14 are the card number within the account and digit 15 is a check digit.
  • Visa - Digits two through six are the bank number, digits seven through 12 or seven through 15 are the account number and digit 13 or 16 is a check digit.
  • MasterCard - Digits two and three, two through four, two through five or two through six are the bank number (depending on whether digit two is a 1, 2, 3 or other). The digits after the bank number up through digit 15 are the account number, and digit 16 is a check digit.

In the next section, we'll look at the stripe on the back of a credit card.