What’s In a Credit Card Number, And Will They Ever Run Out?

There’s a lot of credit cards out there and the number keeps constantly growing. You might worry that they will run out of numbers one day. Maybe we’ll need to make them with 20 digits? Let’s look at what’s in a card number first and then see if they will run out any time soon.

Credit Cards

What’s In a Credit Card Number

Credit card numbers guidelines are laid out by the International Organization for Standardization and the American National Standards Institute. Besides the numbers, they also set standards for the size and shape of credit cards. That’s why all cards are the same size and we don’t see any round credit cards.

The first digit signifies the network and industry and it’s known as the Major Industry identifier. Visas start with a “4” for example, while Amex cards start with a “3.” That allows the merchants to identify who is ultimately responsible for payment of charges.

Number Industry Likely Card Network
1 Airlines
2 Airlines & Financial N/A
3 Travel & Entertainment American Express
4 Banking & Financial Visa
5 Banking & Financial Mastercard
6 Merchandising & Banking Discover
7 Petroleum N/A
8 Health Care & Telecommunications N/A
9 Open for Assignment N/A

The first digit, along with the five that follow it, are known as the Bank Identification Number, or BIN. They’re assigned to the individual payment networks (Visa, Mastercard, Amex), which then distribute them to card issuers (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi etc.).

Issuer Example Identification Number Meaning
Chase 414720 Chase Signature Visa
Bank of America 480011 Bank of America Visa Gold
American Express 379741 American Express Credit
Citi 542418 Citibank Platinum Mastercard
Capital One 414709 Capital One Signature Visa
Discover 601101 Discover Rewards
Wells Fargo 446542 Wells Fargo Platinum Visa
US Bank 403766 U.S. Bank Visa
Barclays 559309 Barclays World Mastercard
USAA 549123 USAA Platinum Mastercard

The next nine digits on your card are given out to individual users by the issuers, and are unique to your account.

The last digit on your credit card is known as the “check digit.” It’s calculated via a formula devised by mathematician Hans Peter Luhn. The formula uses the other 15-digits for the card and allows processors to instantly know whether a number is an actual credit card number, or whether it’s been entered incorrectly due to either error or fraud.

Will We Run Out of Credit Card Numbers?

There’s a lot of credit cards out there. Americans have about 3 on average. Then there’s debit cards and virtual credit card numbers that use the same format. Data breaches make issuers replace cards as well. So there’s a whole lot of numbers and they keep growing. So you might wonder if card numbers will ever run out.

The answer is NO. You do not have to worry. “Each person in the world could have more than a million potential credit numbers” said Cris Poor, a mathematics professor at Fordham University. The potential 16-digit credit card combinations provide far more account numbers than could ever be used. 16-digit card numbers have 10 quadrillion possibilities NBC writes.

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