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Primary Account Number (PAN) Definition

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Last editedAug 20212 min read

If you have a credit or debit account, you’ll have a unique identifying number to go with it. This is called a primary account number, or PAN. How are these numbers assigned and what do they mean? We’ll explore the ins and outs of PANs below.

What is a primary account number (PAN)?

Look at the front of any credit card, and you’ll see a unique number embossed across the front. This is the cardholder’s primary account number, shortened to PAN. A PAN can be anywhere from 14 to 19 digits in length, depending on the type of account. Also called a payment card number, this unique identifier includes valuable details that the payment processor needs to complete a transaction. In addition to credit and debit cards, PAN cards also include things like store gift cards and prepaid cards.

How do PANs work?

When a customer opens a new payment account, the issuer automatically generates a unique PAN to go with it. Although they may vary in digit length, all PANS follow the same basic structure. The first few digits identify the issuing company and credit card network, whether it’s Visa, MasterCard, or a different provider. The final digit is called a checksum number, which is used for security purposes. In between, the middle digits are used as a unique identifier for each customer.

A PAN is only used on payment cards, which means it’s different from bank account codes like BIC and SWIFT.

Primary card number vs secondary card number

Do you have an account with more than one authorised user? In that case, you could consider applying for separate PAN cards for both users. Some credit and debit card issuers will give you PAN cards with the same primary account number on each. Yet others will use a secondary account number instead to keep the cards separate for tracking purposes.

Business credit cards apply PANs slightly differently. The business owner opens a bank account or corporate credit card account. However, when cards are issued for employee use none of them will show the PAN. Instead, each employee receives a unique secondary account number. This is helpful for businesses to track and manage employee card use.

How to apply for PAN card online

All major credit and debit cards use PANs, so if you wish to apply for a PAN card online, you’ll simply need to follow the usual credit application steps.

To get started, figure out which credit card best suits your needs before you submit a PAN card application. Think about factors like international use, rewards, and credit limits. You’ll also need to check your credit score and eligibility to see what types of cards are available to you. Use a credit card comparison tool to see which rates you’re eligible for, comparing terms and interest rates carefully.

Finally, you’re ready to submit your application online. Be sure to follow up and track PAN card status if you haven’t received a reply within the timeframe specified.

PAN card security features

One final note to consider before submitting a PAN card application is security. How will you protect your account number from credit card theft and fraud? Most credit card companies require merchants to protect their customers’ primary account numbers.

PAN truncation is a tool that prevents merchants from storing the full PAN. This involves printing only the first or last digits of the account number on receipts and avoiding other identifying materials. Account numbers should also be encrypted when travelling from Point A to Point B. This means criminals will be unable to track PAN cards.

Protect your primary account numbers and associated cards carefully. If you’re a business owner, you’ll also need to be sure that you’ve put all required precautions into place to protect your customer PANs from hackers and fraud.

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