This post contains references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. The content is not provided by the advertiser and any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain. Please visit our Advertiser Disclosure to view our partners, and for additional details.
Receiving your credit card statement each month may be the opposite of fun, but credit cards themselves are actually a pretty fascinating subject. The little plastic cards that we all rely on have a long, storied history, and there is a lot that most people simply don’t know about their primary payment choice.
Here are some surprising facts about credit cards that might just change the way you look at your wallet.
1. Credit card numbers can be validated via a checksum formula
Valid credit card numbers follow a formula known as the Luhn algorithm. With this algorithm, starting from the right, you double every second digit. (For instance, 1111 would become 2121). You then add together all of the resulting digits. If the number you come up with is divisible by 10, then the credit card number is valid. If it’s not divisible by 10, it’s an invalid card number.
2. The first digit of your credit card tells what industry issued the card
You may have noticed that all of your cards from the same provider start with the same number. That isn’t an accident. The first digit of a credit card indicates what industry issued the card: 1 and 2 indicate an airline card; 3 is for the travel and entertainment industry; 4 and 5 are for banking institutions; 6 is for merchandising and banking; 7 is for gas cards; 8 is for telecommunications; and 9 is for assignments by national standards bodies.
3. Your card doesn’t really expire
Even though your card has an expiration date on it, the credit card doesn’t really expire. You may have noticed that when your bank issues you a new card when an expiration date looms, it has the exact same credit card number as the expiring card.
An expiration serves two purposes. First, a physical credit card can only last for about three-to-four years’ worth of swiping. An expiration date provides your issuer with a date on which to send you a new card before the old one falls apart. Second, the expiration offers a small measure of identity theft protection for cardholders, since it is another piece of information that you would only have if you had the card in your possession.
4. Farming communities used “credit cards” in the 19th century
Long before credit cards were accepted everywhere as payment, farmers would rely on credit extended by local general stores. In the 19th and early 20th century, farmers would need to use credit at their local store for at least part of the year because their income was seasonal. In areas with a large number of farmers, stores started issuing credit cards (initially made of cardboard) to help identify which customers were associated with which accounts.
5. Credit cards were “invented” by several different people
John Briggs created the first bank-issued credit card in 1946. Briggs was a banker with Flatbush National Bank of New York, and he invented the “Charge-It” card, which was technically a charge card since the balance had to be paid in full each month. However, Charge-It was only available for customers of Briggs’s bank, and the card could only be used for local purchases.
In 1950, Frank McNamara, head of Hamilton Credit Corporation, created the Diners Club card — the first credit card that could be used in more than one store. McNamara came up with the idea for such a card after a business meal at a major New York restaurant. He had changed his suit before the dinner, and forgotten his wallet in his other jacket. After that embarrassing incident, it occurred to McNamara that it would be useful to have a noncash method of paying for meals. The Diners Club card was born. When it was first introduced, the card was issued to fewer than 200 people and was only accepted at 27 restaurants in New York. However, within a year, more than 20,000 people were using it.
6. Single women could not get credit cards until 1974
Until the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, women could not get a credit card without a husband as a co-signer. That meant single women and married women who wished to establish credit separate from their spouses were denied credit cards. The 1974 law made it illegal for creditors to discriminate against applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or marital status.
7. Laid end-to-end, all the credit cards on earth would circle the globe 3.5 times
As of 2013, there were over 1.635 billion credit cards in circulation around the world, according to SuperMoney. If all of those cards were laid end-to-end, they would stretch over 86,981 miles, which would circle the earth three and a half times.
8. There are 10,000 worldwide credit card transactions every second
The American Bankers Association estimated in March of 2009 that there are nearly 10,000 credit card transactions occurring every single second worldwide.