What is a 'Reference Number'

A reference number is a unique identifier assigned to each transaction made using a credit or debit card. A unique reference number is technologically created and designated for a single transaction. It helps to distinctively identify transactions in records and electronic databases used to monitor transactions associated with a card. Reference numbers from each transaction on a customer’s account are usually included in a cardholder’s monthly statement.

BREAKING DOWN 'Reference Number'

Reference numbers are used by debit card and credit card issuers to make the compiling and querying of millions of transactions easier to manage. These numbers are used both in printed statements that are sent to cardholders periodically, as well as online banking statements that a cardholder can access at any time. Reference numbers make it easier to concisely fit the transactions on a sheet of paper, as it requires only the use of a string of alphanumeric characters to describe a transaction rather than spelling out the transaction’s full details.

Credit card statements provide a summary of all of the transactions that a cardholder makes during a given time period. Regulations require card companies to provide cardholders with instructions concerning the contents of the statement, as well as how to read and understand the different sections.

Reference numbers also provide operational transaction details for merchants. Merchants can use reference numbers to identify and track all transactions made from their business.

Queries and Fraudulent Charges

Reference numbers make it easier for customers to interact with card company customer service representatives as it allows the customer to communicate any problematic transactions to the representative, who can then query the database to obtain more details about the transaction. For example, it is easier to discuss “transaction 123456” than it is to discuss a purchase using descriptive information such as the store and the date of the transaction. The descriptive elements of the transaction are maintained in the transaction metadata in the card company’s database.

Each individual card transaction generates a reference number at the time a card is charged for a purchase. Card companies have the capability to track comprehensive information about a transaction by its reference number. With the reference number a card company can identify the merchant or seller as well as trace the card back to its card terminal or terminal owner. If a card has been compromised or used for fraudulent charges, card companies can void charges by their reference number in the pending phase keeping the transaction from settlement. Overall, each transaction’s reference number provides a valuable identifier that help to make the resolution process much faster for all transaction queries and any fraudulent charges.

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