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General Information About Credit Cards

Written by: Kristy Welsh

Last Updated: July 23, 2017

If you have been looking for easy to understand information on credit cards, you have come to the right place. Over the years, we have talked to thousands of people and we always seem to get the same questions over and over again. So, we have compiled the most popular questions with answers with regards to credit cards. If you need information about good and bad credit cards, we have another articles addressing those questions.

There are many types of credit cards such as secured credit cards, prepaid, low interest rate, reward based, ones for bad credit, and the list goes on and on. We have other articles that can help you find the perfect card to fit your needs but for now, check out the questions below to obtain the general information regarding credit cards.

What Do The Digits On a Credit Card Mean?

ANSI Standard X4.13-1983 is the system used by most national credit card systems. Phone cards, gas cards, and department store cards have their own numbering systems.

The first digit of the card identifies the type of card.

  • 3 is a Travel & Entertainment Card
  • 4 is a Visa
  • 5 is a MasterCard
  • 6 is Discover
  • American Express starts with 37
  • Carte Blanche and Diners Club start with 38

On AMEX, the third and fourth digits are type and currency and the fifth through eleventh digits are the actual account number. On a VISA card, the second through sixth digits are the bank number and the seventh through fifteenth is the account number. On a MasterCard credit card, digits 2 through 6 are the bank account and the remaining digits are the account number.

What to Do If a Credit Card is Lost or Stolen 

If you have lost your credit card or if it was stolen, call the issuer right away. Check one of your monthly statements for the customer service number. If you don't have access to these statements, look up the issuing bank on the Internet or if you have access to your credit card account online, get the number off of their website.

The important thing is to act fast and don't wait a day or even a minute. A lost or stolen credit card has the potential to cause a lot of damage, especially if you have a high credit limit. Once you have reported the card lost or stolen, you should follow-up with a letter stating the following:

  1. account number
  2. date of loss or theft
  3. date it was reported to the card holder
  4. last authorized transaction including date and amount

This will protect you from being liable for any further charges on the account.

What is the Toll Free Number for Customer Service?

For Discover, call 1-800-347-2683, or 1-800-DISCOVER.

For American Express, call 1-800-528-4800.

For VISA and MasterCard, the issuing bank handles service of its own customers. The customer service number will be printed somewhere in your bill, or on a page in the packet of stuff the card company sent you when you enrolled. Check the Internet to see if you can find a number listed or you can call directory assistance at 1-800-555-1212 to find out if the bank maintains a toll free number.

Reasons You May Have Been Turned Down For a Credit Card

Being turned down for a credit card or loan can be a shock and you might be a bit worried as to why this happened. Your best bet is to ask the issuing bank why you were declined if they did not provide an explanation in the denial letter you received from them. Before you try to apply for another credit card, read some of our helpful articles on credit repair and getting a reading your credit report.

Is It Safe to Give a Credit Card Number Over the Phone?

You should NEVER give your credit card number to anyone who calls you. Such a call is almost certainly a scam. This is true even if the caller claims to be from your card issuer. Anyone from the issuer who legitimately has your phone number also has the rest of your records, including your card number, right?!

If you're making a call in response to a postcard from some company you've never heard of, be very wary. There have been a lot of frauds reported where the victim gave a credit card number and found lots of unauthorized charges on the next month's bill. We are sure that some of these "you've won a free trip, just give us your card number for the $149 processing fee" offers are legitimate. But how can you tell over the phone?

Even when you place the call to a bona fide merchant (such as a mail order company), never give your card number out over a cellular phone. Scanners that snoop on these conversations are available for a few hundred dollars at Radio Shack and your voice can be received by one for a far greater distance than the maximum useful range of your cordless phone. Often these lines are monitored to obtain your credit card, or your vacation plans.

Of course, if you're calling an established mail order company, giving them your card number is as safe as anything is these days!

What Creditors Do If You Can't Pay Your Bill

Credit card debt, like any other debt, does not give your creditors license to harass you. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a Federal Law, was enacted to protect you from creditors. The FDCPA forbids the following collection actions:

  • The use of violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation or property of any person.
  • The use of obscene or profane language or language the natural consequence of which is to abuse the hearer or reader.
  • Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.
  • The false representation or implication that the debt collector is vouched for, bonded by, or affiliated with the United States or any State, including the use of any badge, uniform, or facsimile thereof.
  • The false representation or implication that any individual is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney.
  • The representation or implication that nonpayment of any debt will result in the arrest or imprisonment of any person or the seizure, garnishment, attachment or sale of any property or wages of any person, when such action is unlawful or the debt collector does not intend to take such action.
  • The false representation or implication that the consumer committed any crime or other personal conduct, in order to disgrace the consumer.
  • Communicating credit information to any person which is known to be false, including the failure to communicate that a disputed debt is disputed.
  • The use or distribution of any written communication which simulates or is falsely represented to be a document authorized, issued, or approved by any court, official, or agency of the United States or any State, or which creates a false impression as to its source, authorization, or approval.
  • The false representation or implication that accounts have been turned over to innocent purchasers for value.
  • The false representation or implication that documents are legal process.
  • The false representation or implication that documents are not legal process forms or do not require action by the consumer.
  • Communication with debtor at unusual (or known-inconvenient) times or places.
  • Communication with third parties without debtor consent.
  • False or Misleading Representations including:
    • The threat to take any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken.
    • Communicating (or threatening to communicate) credit information to any person which is known (or which should be known) to be false, including the failure to communicate that a disputed debt is disputed.
    • The use or distribution of any written communication which simulates or is falsely represented to be a document authorized, issued, or approved by any court, official, or agency of the United States or any State, or which creates a false impression as to its source, authorization, or approval.

The Federal Reserve Bank puts out a free pamphlet titled "The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." For a copy, call (215) 574-6115 or write the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Public Information/Publications, P.O. Box 66, Philadelphia, PA 19105-0066.