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Know your credit card - What those numbers and symbols mean

3 min read

Before the internet and online shopping came along, the numbers on our credit cards weren’t something we had to pay much attention to. But once you’ve punched in those 16 numbers into an online store a few times, you suddenly become a lot more aware. Here’s a short guide about what those numbers actually mean.

Credit card companies and banks

You might have noticed that even though you have a Visa or Mastercard, it’s actually your bank (or another financial institution) that sends you the card (and the bill!). This is because the credit card brands we’re so familiar with provide what can be thought of as the platform, while your bank owns and issues the card and manages the money side of things. The credit card companies make their money by getting a cut of each transaction and the issuer (your bank) makes money by charging interest on the debt. For the rest of us, it means we can buy stuff pretty much anywhere, even though your bank doesn’t necessarily have a relationship with a particular retailer.

Know your credit card BNZ Visa Advantage Classic Front image4

The 16-digit sequence

Those 16-digits you punch into the ordering page of your favourite online shop are more than a random sequence of numerals.

The first digit represents the actual credit card brand. Its proper name is the ‘Major Industry Identifier’. You may have noticed that all Visas begin with the number 4 and all Mastercards begin with the number 5.

The next five digits represent the issuer, most likely a bank for many of us.

The following 9 digits is the account number. This number has nothing to do with your bank account and only identifies that card as being yours.

The final number is a randomly generated number that acts as a check to help prevent fraud.

Other numbers

On the front of the card, the expiry date is self-explanatory, as is the name that’s embossed.

On the back of the card, the main point of interest is the Card Security Code. The first part of this code is actually invisible as it’s encoded on the magnetic strip. But the second part of it, and the one most familiar, is the 3-digit code printed next to the signature strip that many online stores ask for when making a purchase. On a Visa this number is called the CVV (card verification value), while Mastercard call it the CVC (card validation code). Whatever the abbreviation, the purpose of this number is so that online stores can verify you are physically in possession of the card during a ‘card not present’ transaction.

On BNZ issued cards, your 9-digit access number - the one used to login to internet banking and other instances - is also printed on the rear for convenience.

Physical features

On the front, the most obvious feature is the encrypted chip that gets read by terminals during a transaction.

Inside the plastic layers is the antenna used for contactless transactions using PayPass (Mastercard) or Paywave (Visa).

The magnetic strip stores information that identifies your card to the terminal it’s being used in. In the case of BNZ cards, an extra layer of security is provided by technology called LEN Secure. LEN stands for Liquid Encryption Number and means that any time a BNZ issued card is used in a BNZ ATM, the information stored on the magnetic strip gets rearranged, making it far more difficult for fraudsters to copy the card in a skimming scam.

The ‘Plus’ and ‘Maestro’ logos sometimes seen on the back of the card indicate that cards can be used in any ATM also displaying that logo to withdraw cash.

More information

Of course there’s more to credit cards than just the numbers, here’s some great tips on how not to use your credit card. And find out how you can take control of your credit card.

BNZ cards give you ultimate flexibility

Whether you want a card that earns rewards or a low interest rate, we’ve got you covered.

Check out our range of credit cards today.