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A credit card is a payment card issued to users cardholders to enable the cardholder to pay a merchant for goods and services based on the cardholder's promise to the card issuer to pay them for the amounts plus the other agreed charges. A credit card is different from a charge card , which requires the balance to be repaid in full each month. A credit card also differs from a cash card , which can be used like currency by the owner of the card.
A credit card differs from a charge card also in that a credit card typically involves a third-party entity that pays the seller and is reimbursed by the buyer, whereas a charge card simply defers payment by the buyer until a later date. The size of most credit cards is The card number's prefix , called the Bank Identification Number , is the sequence of digits at the beginning of the number that determine the bank to which a credit card number belongs.
This is the first six digits for MasterCard and Visa cards. The next nine digits are the individual account number, and the final digit is a validity check code. Many modern credit cards have a computer chip embedded in them as a security feature. In addition to the main credit card number, credit cards also carry issue and expiration dates given to the nearest month , as well as extra codes such as issue numbers and security codes.
Not all credit cards have the same sets of extra codes nor do they use the same number of digits. Credit card numbers were originally embossed to allow easy transfer of the number to charge slips. With the decline of paper slips, some credit cards are no longer embossed and in fact the card number is no longer in the front. The concept of using a card for purchases was described in by Edward Bellamy in his utopian novel Looking Backward.
Bellamy used the term credit card eleven times in this novel, although this referred to a card for spending a citizen's dividend from the government, rather than borrowing,  making it more similar to a Debit card. Charge coins and other similar items were used from the late 19th century to the s. They came in various shapes and sizes; with materials made out of celluloid an early type of plastic , copper, aluminum, steel, and other types of whitish metals.
These charge coins were usually given to customers who had charge accounts in department stores, hotels, and so on. A charge coin usually had the charge account number along with the merchant's name and logo. The charge coin offered a simple and fast way to copy a charge account number to the sales slip, by imprinting the coin onto the sales slip. This sped the process of copying, previously done by handwriting.
It also reduced the number of errors, by having a standardized form of numbers on the sales slip, instead of various kind of handwriting style. Because the customer's name was not on the charge coin, almost anyone could use it. This sometimes led to a case of mistaken identity, either accidentally or intentionally, by acting on behalf of the charge account owner or out of malice to defraud both the charge account owner and the merchant.
Beginning in the s, merchants started to move from charge coins to the newer Charga-Plate. The Charga-Plate, developed in , was an early predecessor of the credit card and was used in the U. It was embossed with the customer's name, city, and state. It held a small paper card on its back for a signature. In recording a purchase, the plate was laid into a recess in the imprinter, with a paper "charge slip" positioned on top of it.
The record of the transaction included an impression of the embossed information, made by the imprinter pressing an inked ribbon against the charge slip. In some cases, the plates were kept in the issuing store rather than held by customers. When an authorized user made a purchase, a clerk retrieved the plate from the store's files and then processed the purchase. Charga-Plates speeded back-office bookkeeping and reduced copying errors that were done manually in paper ledgers in each store.
This is the reason the modern UATP cards still start with the number 1. With an Air Travel Card, passengers could "buy now, and pay later" for a ticket against their credit and receive a fifteen percent discount at any of the accepting airlines. By the s, all of the major U. By , about half of the airlines' revenues came through the Air Travel Card agreement. The airlines had also started offering installment plans to lure new travelers into the air.
In October , the Air Travel Card became the first internationally valid charge card within all members of the International Air Transport Association. The concept of customers paying different merchants using the same card was expanded in by Ralph Schneider and Frank McNamara , founders of Diners Club , to consolidate multiple cards. The Diners Club, which was created partially through a merger with Dine and Sign, produced the first "general purpose" charge card and required the entire bill to be paid with each statement.
That was followed by Carte Blanche and in by American Express which created a worldwide credit card network although these were initially charge cards that later acquired credit card features. Until , no one had been able to successfully establish a revolving credit financial system in which a card issued by a third-party bank was being generally accepted by a large number of merchants, as opposed to merchant-issued revolving cards accepted by only a few merchants.
There had been a dozen attempts by small American banks, but none of them were able to last very long. In September , Bank of America launched the BankAmericard in Fresno, California , which would become the first successful recognizably modern credit card. This card succeeded where others failed by breaking the chicken-and-egg cycle in which consumers did not want to use a card that few merchants would accept and merchants did not want to accept a card that few consumers used.
In , the ancestor of MasterCard was born when a group of banks established Master Charge to compete with BankAmericard; it received a significant boost when Citibank merged its own Everything Card , launched in , into Master Charge in Early credit cards in the U. They have been mailed off to unemployable people, drunks, narcotics addicts and to compulsive debtors, a process President Johnson's Special Assistant Betty Furness found very like "giving sugar to diabetics ".
However, by the time the law came into effect, approximately million credit cards had been dropped into the U. After , only credit card applications could be sent unsolicited in mass mailings. Before the computerization of credit card systems in America, using a credit card to pay at a merchant was significantly more complicated than it is today. Each time a consumer wanted to use a credit card, the merchant would have to call their bank, who in turn had to call the credit card company, which then had to have an employee manually look up the customer's name and credit balance.
This system was computerized in under the leadership of Dee Hock , the first CEO of Visa, allowing transaction time to decrease substantially to less than one minute. Books with lists of stolen card numbers were distributed to merchants who were supposed in any case to check cards against the list before accepting them, as well as verifying the signature on the charge slip against that on the card. Merchants who failed to take the time to follow the proper verification procedures were liable for fraudulent charges, but because of the cumbersome nature of the procedures, merchants would often simply skip some or all of them and assume the risk for smaller transactions.
The fractured nature of the U. There are now countless variations on the basic concept of revolving credit for individuals as issued by banks and honored by a network of financial institutions , including organization-branded credit cards, corporate-user credit cards, store cards and so on. Although credit cards reached very high adoption levels in the US, Canada and the UK during the latter 20th century, many cultures were more cash-oriented or developed alternative forms of cashless payments, such as Carte bleue or the Eurocard Germany, France, Switzerland, and others.
In these places, adoption of credit cards was initially much slower. Due to strict regulations regarding bank overdrafts, some countries, France in particular, were much quicker to develop and adopt chip-based credit cards which are seen as major anti-fraud credit devices. Debit cards and online banking using either ATMs or PCs [ clarification needed ] are used more widely than credit cards in some countries.
It took until the s to reach anything like the percentage market penetration levels achieved in the US, Canada, and UK. In some countries, acceptance still remains low as the use of a credit card system depends on the banking system of each country; while in others, a country sometimes had to develop its own credit card network, e.
UK's Barclaycard and Australia 's Bankcard. Japan remains a very cash-oriented society, with credit card adoption being limited mainly to the largest of merchants; although stored value cards such as telephone cards are used as alternative currencies , the trend is toward RFID -based systems inside cards, cellphones, and other objects. The design of the credit card itself has become a major selling point in recent years.
This has led to the rise of Co-Brand and Affinity cards, where the card design is related to the "affinity" a university or professional society, for example leading to higher card usage. In most cases a percentage of the value of the card is returned to the affinity group. A growing field of numismatics study of money , or more specifically exonumia study of money-like objects , credit card collectors seek to collect various embodiments of credit from the now familiar plastic cards to older paper merchant cards, and even metal tokens that were accepted as merchant credit cards.
Early credit cards were made of celluloid plastic, then metal and fiber , then paper, and are now mostly polyvinyl chloride PVC plastic. However the chip part of credit cards is not made from plastic but from metals. A credit card issuing company, such as a bank or credit union, enters into agreements with merchants for them to accept their credit cards.
Merchants often advertise which cards they accept by displaying acceptance marks — generally derived from logos — or this may be communicated in signage in the establishment or in company material e. Merchants may also communicate this orally, as in "We take brands X, Y, and Z " or "We don't take credit cards".
The credit card issuer issues a credit card to a customer at the time or after an account has been approved by the credit provider, which need not be the same entity as the card issuer. The cardholders can then use it to make purchases at merchants accepting that card. When a purchase is made, the cardholder agrees to pay the card issuer. The cardholder indicates consent to pay by signing a receipt with a record of the card details and indicating the amount to be paid or by entering a personal identification number PIN.
Also, many merchants now accept verbal authorizations via telephone and electronic authorization using the Internet, known as a card not present transaction CNP. Electronic verification systems allow merchants to verify in a few seconds that the card is valid and the cardholder has sufficient credit to cover the purchase, allowing the verification to happen at time of purchase.
The verification is performed using a credit card payment terminal or point-of-sale POS system with a communications link to the merchant's acquiring bank. Data from the card is obtained from a magnetic stripe or chip on the card; the latter system is called Chip and PIN in the United Kingdom and Ireland , and is implemented as an EMV card. For card not present transactions where the card is not shown e. Each month, the cardholder is sent a statement indicating the purchases made with the card, any outstanding fees, and the total amount owed.
In the US, after receiving the statement, the cardholder may dispute any charges that he or she thinks are incorrect see 15 U. The cardholder must pay a defined minimum portion of the amount owed by a due date, or may choose to pay a higher amount. The credit issuer charges interest on the unpaid balance if the billed amount is not paid in full typically at a much higher rate than most other forms of debt. In addition, if the cardholder fails to make at least the minimum payment by the due date, the issuer may impose a late fee or other penalties.
To help mitigate this, some financial institutions can arrange for automatic payments to be deducted from the cardholder's bank account, thus avoiding such penalties altogether, as long as the cardholder has sufficient funds. Many banks now also offer the option of electronic statements, either in lieu of or in addition to physical statements, which can be viewed at any time by the cardholder via the issuer's online banking website.
Notification of the availability of a new statement is generally sent to the cardholder's email address. If the card issuer has chosen to allow it, the cardholder may have other options for payment besides a physical check, such as an electronic transfer of funds from a checking account. Depending on the issuer, the cardholder may also be able to make multiple payments during a single statement period, possibly enabling him or her to utilize the credit limit on the card several times.
Credit card advertising regulations in the U. A large fraction of junk mail consists of credit card offers created from lists provided by the major credit reporting agencies. In the United States, the three major U. Credit card issuers usually waive interest charges if the balance is paid in full each month, but typically will charge full interest on the entire outstanding balance from the date of each purchase if the total balance is not paid. The precise manner in which interest is charged is usually detailed in a cardholder agreement which may be summarized on the back of the monthly statement.
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