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How Do You Know if a Credit Card Number is Valid?

Written by Nickel - 20 Comments

As a followup to my recent post about what your credit card number means, I wanted to throw out a bit more credit card trivia and talk about how you can tell if a credit card number is valid.

As you may or may not aware, most credit card numbers are generated based on something known as the Luhn algorithm. It thus stands to reason that a credit card number is valid if (and only if) it satisfies the “Luhn check” (a.k.a., the Mod 10 check), which is a simple mathematical test that involves manipulating the credit card number, adding it up, and checking to see if it’s evenly divisible by ten.

Testing credit card numbers

Here’s how to apply the Luhn check to test whether or not a credit card number is valid:

  • Step 1a. For a card number with an even number of digits (e.g., Visa or MasterCard), double alternating digits starting with the first digit in the sequence.
  • Step 1b. For a card with an odd number of digits (e.g., American Express), double alternating digits starting with the second digit in the sequence.
  • Step 2. If the doubling resulted in a number with two digits, add them together to get a single digit number
  • Step 3. Now go back to the original credit number and replace the digits that you doubled with the new value — either the doubled value, or the doubled value with the digits added together — and add it all up.
  • Step 4. Check to see if the sum is evenly divisible by 10 (you can simply look to see whether or not it ends with a zero).

If the card number does not pass this check, then it is not a valid number. If, on the other hand, it does pass, then it may be a valid number with valid credit report.

Checking validity: an example

Those steps are a bit convoluted, so here’s a real world example… The following credit card image comes from the CitiCards homepage for their Platinum Select MasterCard. The number on the card is 5424 1801 2345 6789. For starters, the fact that the number starts with a “5” indicates that it’s a MasterCard (as does the little MasterCard symbol on the card).

citi mastercard

Since there are sixteen digits, we’ll start by doubling the 1st, 3rd, etc. digits and then summing as outlined above. I’ve highlighted the doubled (and in some cases summed) values in parentheses, below. I’ve also underlined the check digit.

(1+0) + 4 + (4) + 4 + (2) + 8 + (0) + 1 + (4) + 3 + (8) + 5 + (1+2) + 7 + (1+6) + 9

This totals up to 70, which is evenly divisible by 10. In other words, this is a potentially valid credit card number, though I’m sure it doesn’t correspond to a real account number. If it does, then L. Walker (the name on the card) probably isn’t too happy about his/her credit card number being spread around like this.

Published on March 1st, 2010
Modified on November 8th, 2013 - 20 Comments
Filed under: Credit Cards

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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20 Responses to “How Do You Know if a Credit Card Number is Valid?”

  1. 1
    MikeS Says:

    Yup, I’m a geek. I tested one of my cards and it’s valid.

    Very cool Nickel.

  2. 2
    SkiSpeaks Says:

    Nickel,

    Like MikeS said, very cool series of articles. I did a search and there are actually tools that will run this validation automatically, like the one at:
    http://www.braemoor.co.uk/soft.....card.shtml
    (For disclosure, I have nothing to do with that site).

    In keeping with the spirit of liking finance and random trivia, I added your post to my roundup of links for the week :)

  3. 3
    Doug Says:

    For some example cards that are valid you can try:

    4012888888881
    4012888888881881
    5454545454545454

    These are purely test cards that are given out by Visa and Mastercard for merchants to test their credit card frontends. For a more complicated test, the expiration on those is 12/49, their CV value is 999, the address is ‘123′ (since really only the numbers in an address matter) and the zip code is 12345.

    As a follow up to what you said yesterday, MasterCard is only 5099-5499, with 55 being Maestro. Above that its a mix of private label and Wright Express if memory serves me right.

    Discover actually processes for Diners Club International, JCB (Japan Credit Bureau), and CUPS (China Union Pay). Discover is a subset in 6011 and their new range of 6440-6599. Diners Club is 3000-3095, 3600-3699, and 3800-3899. JCB is a subset of 35, while CUPS is a subset of 62.

    That’s why AMEX has 34 and 37.

    With VISA and MC also identify what type of card you have by the BIN (Bank Identification Number), which are the first 6 digits. So merchants can identify what rate they’re going to be charged for that transaction and whether they should attempt to get the customer to enter their Debit PIN (which is cheaper for the merchant). AMEX on the other hand does not do this, which is why, for example when you shop at Walmart with an AMEX, you must always enter your zip code. Zip code information along with the purchase is known as Level 2 and must be included for certain card types. Since the merchant doesn’t know based on the BIN with AMEX, the only safe move is to always ask for it.

  4. 4
    Gregg With 3 G's Says:

    The card given in the example, 5424 1801 2345 6789, adds up to 70, not 67. Supposedly, this means it could be a valid card. If this really is the example given on the CitiBank site as an “invalid” card it raises questions about their accuracy.

  5. 5
    Nickel Says:

    Gregg: You are indeed correct, and I’m apparently lame when it comes to working a calculator. The example is laid out properly, but I added it up wrong. I’ve fixed it. Thanks!

  6. 6
    Kevin Says:

    I got my wallet, grabbed two cards, and did the calcs… they were both valid!

    Thanks for the post.

  7. 7
    adetayo mathew adebayo Says:

    i need a card that is valid

  8. 8
    samsong Says:

    i want to know if this credit card are valid and if valid i need the whole info about it 4271035222415929

  9. 9
    tri Says:

    can i have sample discover credit card starting with 65 or 64 and having 16 digits

  10. 10
    Janet Says:

    please I need a credit card info,i need to subscribe for a dating site called mate1,i will appreciate you help.

  11. 11
    Ralph Says:

    please i need a credit card for some reasons,please help me out,please a card the have fund on it.

  12. 12
    williams Says:

    please i need a credit card that is valid to purchased my school ambition

  13. 13
    nifemi Says:

    i will like you to help me check if this card is working and the information about it
    4929297172905897

  14. 14
    Dave Says:

    We are implementing China’s UnionPay. Can someone give me a good test card number? Thanks.

  15. 15
    frank Says:

    Thanks mate!

  16. 16
    L.Walker Says:

    It is luke skywalker to you, and no i am not very happy with my account. :( (jk) but thanks for the info!

  17. 17
    Greg Says:

    Is there no software or website i can enter a credit card number and details to find out its validity

  18. 18
    kazakhstan almaty Says:

    First of all I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my mind
    in getting my thoughts out there. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15
    minutes are usually wasted just trying to figure out how to begin.

    Any suggestions or hints? Cheers!

  19. 19
    San Says:

    Nice and useful post. I have added a link to this page from my site.

  20. 20
    Hilarious Says:

    The amount of scammers asking for card numbers in the comments is hilarious, and the SEO spam from “kazakhstan almaty” just doesn’t fit.

    Dear SEO spammer, you should’ve asked for a credit card number to illegally use in your post. It would make it fit in better.

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