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The string of digits presented on the front of a credit or debit card is enough to confuse even the smartest of shoppers.
Yet, each number plays a crucial role in identifying the card provider, bank, and account information, as well as providing a security check.
The only organization that can assign numbers to specific networks, such as Visa or MasterCard, and financial institutions, like Bank of America or JP Morgan Chase, is the nonprofit American National Standards Institute, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
When swiped, the Post-Gazette explains, a terminal uses the magnetic stripe of the card to first route the transaction through the proper card network, and then to the financial institution that is listed on the card so that the transaction can be authorized.
Every card, no matter the network or bank, must be in agreement with the " Luhn System, " which determines the validity of a credit card. It's a mathematical algorithm where various combinations of numbers must add up to a number ending in 0. If the total of the combinations adds up to anything other than a multiple of 10, the card is invalid.
Generally, the first number or two of a credit or debit signifies the card provider, followed by digits that determine everything from the currency being used, to the bank processing the transaction, to the individual's account number.
But every network operates a little differently — here's the breakdown.American Express