Weird Credit Card Facts and Stats

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by Joe Mahlow • Jan. 27, 2022

Weird Credit Card Facts and Stats
A caption for the above image.


 

  • There’s not really an expiration date. 

Sure, it says so on your card, but you could continue using it after the expiration date. The expiration date on your card does fulfill a couple of purposes though. First, it estimates the lifetime of your physical card and gives your credit card issuer a date to send you a new one. Second, it is used for online and over-the-phone purchases when the merchant is unable to see your card. The expiration date allows the merchant to confirm you are the owner of the card and have it in your possession. 


 

  • There are enough credit cards in circulation to span the earth more than 3.5 times. 

There were over 1.65 billion cards in circulation in 2017: Visa had 827 million, Mastercard had 718 million, and American Express had 109 million. If you placed all those cards end to end, at 3.375 inches each, you could span 88,050 miles: the equivalent of three and a half trips around the world. And that was back in 2017!


 

  • Sears is a founding father of plastic. 

Sears was once America’s golden retailer. The arrival of the Sears catalog was a special day in many households and the Christmas catalog was what children’s dreams were made of. Sears devised the first retail store card back in 1911. The card continued in service until 2003, when Citigroup bought Sears’ card and its membership list. Sears also launched the Discover Card. It was announced during the 1986 Super Bowl. That was one year before American Express launched its first credit card, when Mastercard and Visa controlled the entire credit card business. Now that’s some American history!


 

  • The very first credit card could only be used in New York restaurants. 

In 1950, Frank McNamara, head of Hamilton Credit Corporation, founded the Diners’ Club Card: the first card that could be used in multiple locations. He had the epiphany of starting a credit card company after a business meal at the Major’s Cabin Grill, a popular New York restaurant. Before going to the restaurant, he had changed suits and realized he’d forgotten his wallet in his other suit (sure, sure), and thought about how useful it would be to have a card you could use instead of cash. Although it could only be used at 28 restaurants and two hotels, it became a status symbol among the New York’s business elite and grew to 10,000 members within the first year.


 

  • The inventor of credit cards thought it was just a trendy fad. 

Although McNamara had the vision to see how convenient credit cards could be, he still thought credit cards would be just another fad. He sold his share in Diners Club for $200,000 – the equivalent of $1.6 million in today’s money. By the mid-1960s, Diners Club had 1.3 million cardholders and was accepted throughout the world. No insider trading going on there. 


 

  • The first all-purpose credit card was just junk mail.

In 1958, Joseph P. Williams, a Bank of America employee, had the bright idea of mailing 60,000 genuine BankAmericard credit cards to people in Fresno, California. The cards, which were made of paper and had a pre-approved credit limit of $300, were totally unsolicited. By October 1959, Williams had managed to distribute 2 million credit cards to people all over California. Unfortunately for Williams and Bank of America, 20% of all credit accounts became delinquent, which meant Bank of America lost $8.8 million during the launch of the new card and Williams lost his job. As of 1970, mailing unsolicited credit cards is illegal, although sending pre-approved applications is just fine. Good shift.


 

  • The first two digits on your card identify the industry of the issuer. 

If your credit card number starts with a 1 or a 2, it was issued by an airline. Number 3 is for companies in the travel and entertainment industry; all American Express® and Diners Club cards start with a 3. Numbers 4 and 5 are for banking institutions. If it starts with a 4, you have a Visa card. Number 5 is for Mastercard. Number 6 is for merchandising and banking; 7 is for gas cards; 8 is for telecommunication companies; and 9 is used for national assignments.


 

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