Credit cards and how credit cards work

Credit Cards

A credit card is a payment card issued to users as a system of payment. It allows the cardholder to pay for goods and services based on the holder’s promise to pay for them. The issuer of the card creates a revolving account and grants a line of credit to the consumer (or the user) from which the user can borrow money for payment to a merchant or as a cash advance to the user.

A credit card is different from a charge card: a charge card requires the balance to be paid in full each month. In contrast, credit cards allow the consumers a continuing balance of debt, subject to interest being charged. 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 3 ⅜ × 2 ⅛ in (85.60 × 53.98 mm), conforming to the ISO/IEC 7810 ID-1 standard. Credit cards have an embossed bank card number complying with the ISO/IEC 7812 numbering standard.

How credit cards work

Credit cards are issued by a credit card issuer, such as a bank or credit union, after an account has been approved by the credit provider, after which cardholders can use it to make purchases at merchants accepting that card. Merchants often advertise which cards they accept by displaying acceptance marks – generally derived from logos – or may communicate this orally, as in “We take (brands X, Y, and Z)” or “We don’t take credit cards”.

When a purchase is made, the credit card user 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 credit card customer 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.

An example of the front in a typical credit card:

  1. Issuing Bank Logo
  2. EMV chip (only on “smart cards”)
  3. Hologram
  4. Personal Account Number
  5. Card Brand Logo
  6. Expiration Date
  7. Card Holder Name
  8. Contactless Chip

An example of the reverse side of a typical credit card:

  1. Magnetic Stripe
  2. Signature Strip
  3. Card Security Code

For card not present transactions where the card is not shown (e.g., e-commerce, mail order, and telephone sales), merchants additionally verify that the customer is in physical possession of the card and is the authorized user by asking for additional information such as the security code printed on the back of the card, date of expiry, and billing address.

Each month, the credit card user is sent a statement indicating the purchases undertaken 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.S.C. § 1643, which limits cardholder liability for unauthorized use of a credit card to $50). The Fair Credit Billing Act gives details of the US regulations. The cardholder must pay a defined minimum portion of the amount owed by a due date, or may choose to pay a higher amount up to the entire amount owed which may be greater than the amount billed. 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 credit card user fails to make at least the minimum payment by the due date, the issuer may impose a “late fee” and/or other penalties on the user. To help mitigate this, some financial institutions can arrange for automatic payments to be deducted from the user’s bank accounts, 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 over.

Cobranded Cards

You can also choose a co-branded card program which allows you all of the same benefits which credit cards offer while promoting your company logo or URL on the card. These cobranded cards allow all of the benefits which Visa or MasterCard have to offer while also offering free marketing as well.

If you are interested in signing up for a credit card program please feel free to contact us, we would be happy to assist you in any way that we can. We currently offer a variety of credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards and co-branded cards to choose from which will allow you to choose the right type of card for you.


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