What is a 'Primary Account Number (PAN)'

A primary account number is a 14, 15 or 16 digit number generated as a unique identifier designated for a primary account. Some accounts may have secondary account numbers associated as subsets of an account or given to secondary account holders. In some cases, the primary account number may be the only number associated with the account, thereby simply being called the account number.

BREAKING DOWN 'Primary Account Number (PAN)'

Primary account numbers are a unique identifier that supports account record keeping and resolution if issues should arise with the account. The primary account number is typically generated when an account is opened. Therefore, it is usually the first account in a series of accounts that may be opened by a customer at a financial institution. The primary account number is also usually the number identified with a trade line on an individual’s credit report.

Both debit and credit cards may possibly be issued to a secondary account holder if authorized from the primary account. If an account has a secondary account holder, cards issued to the secondary user may have a secondary account number, or both users’ cards may use the primary account number, depending on the financial institution’s card issuing policy. In contrast, a business credit card account might have a primary account number that doesn’t appear on any employee’s credit card, and secondary account numbers that appear on each employee’s card.

Primary Account Number Identifiers

You can learn a lot from a primary account number if you understand the method behind its creation. The very first digit is called the major industry identifier and it identifies the type of credit card. American Express cards start with a 3, Visa cards start with a 4, MasterCard cards start with a 5, and Discover cards start with a 6. Certain airline credit cards start with a 1 or 2, petroleum company cards start with a 7 and certain telecommunications and healthcare cards start with an 8.

The first six digits identify the credit card network associated with the card, such as 601100 for Discover cards. The last digit is a checksum number, which helps prevent criminals from creating fraudulent credit card numbers. The numbers in between the first six digits and the last digit uniquely identify the customer’s account.

Primary Account Number Precautions and Legislation

Credit card companies such as Visa ask merchants to take precautions to protect customers’ primary account numbers. One such guideline is called PAN truncation. Visa says that merchants are not required to store full account numbers, since doing so presents a security risk if there is a data breach. In the United States, a federal law called the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2006 prohibits merchants from printing more than the last 5 digits of a cardholder’s account number on a receipt. Merchants are also prohibited from printing the card’s expiration date.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Credit Card Funding

    Credit card funding is the use of a credit card account to provide ...
  2. Secured Credit Card

    A secured credit card is a type of credit card that is backed ...
  3. Universal Default

    Universal default allows a credit card company to raise a card’s ...
  4. Debit Card

    A debit is a payment card that deducts money directly from a ...
  5. Carding Forum

    A website dedicated to the sharing of stolen credit card numbers. ...
  6. Charge Card

    A charge card is a type of electronic payment card that charges ...
Related Articles
  1. IPF - Banking

    Credit, Debit and Charge: Sizing Up The Cards in Your Wallet

    Not all plastic is equal! Learn the difference between the three kinds, and how each can affect your finances.
  2. Personal Finance

    3 New Types Of Credit Cards To Look For

    These three types of credit cards are becoming popular with customers looking to pay less fees and build up their credit scores.
  3. Personal Finance

    What happens when your credit card expires?

    Find out why it's a good idea to change and update your credit card once in a while. Learn about other cards that may better suit your needs.
  4. Personal Finance

    10 Considerations For Using Your Credit Card Abroad

    Credit cards can be the best item you pack when traveling, just make sure that you are taking the right card that suits your needs.
  5. Personal Finance

    How Credit Cards Affect Your Credit Rating

    The average American household has four cards, but does that mean more is better?
  6. Personal Finance

    Credit Card or Cash?

    Credit cards are convenient to use, but not always the best choice. Here are five times you shouldn't pay with a credit card — and five times you should.
  7. Personal Finance

    Does a Lost or Stolen Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score?

    Learn the ways in which a lost or stolen credit card can hurt your credit, and understand the steps you can take to protect yourself if this happens.
  8. Personal Finance

    10 reasons to use your credit card

    There's a surprising credit card strategy you should employ as a consumer: Use your credit card for everything (or almost).
RELATED FAQS
  1. Debit card versus credit card

    Can't figure out which card to use when making a purchase decision? Here is everything you need to know about the differences ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center