Some banks offer a Virtual Account Number feature which allows us to generate an unlimited amount of credit card numbers tied to a single card account. The idea is to use a temporary virtual number for any online or phone transactions where you want to create limits or protect yourself from fraud.
Below is a list of all known banks and cards that offer such a feature.
Just a few things to keep in mind before using the virtual number option:
- Returns: Any returns should be able to go back on the virtual card (and then back to the main account), but beware that this will only work while the card number if valid. If you gave the card a 2 months limit, and you initiate a return after that time, the card number probably won’t work for the return and you’ll have to ask the retailer to put it back on a different card. Hopefully, they’ll be willing to do so. Also, if you do an in-store return they might occasionally ask to see the card, and a virtual card could complicate things.
- Store Pickup: Beware of using them for store pickup purchases since occasionally the retailer asks to see the card for verification.
- Car rental, Hotels, Tickets: You might need to show a physical card at the car rental, hotel, and similar purchases.
- Reconciliation: If you use virtual card numbers often, it can become difficult to track your purchases since you won’t recognize the card number as your own.
One final note, some people mention that the virtual account numbers sometimes work past when they are supposed to (we’ve heard this only regarding Bank of America). They do this for your benefit (e.g. to allow a recurring charge to continue), but it’s actually to your detriment in a scenario that you got the virtual number specifically to ensure those future charges don’t hit the account.
Bank of America
Bank of America offers virtual card numbers with their ShopSafe program. They only offer this on Visa and Mastercards, not Amex cards.
To find it in your login, select the card to get to the Account Activity page, and then you’ll see the ShopSafe option at the bottom-right. Choose the correct card, and specify how much the dollar limit and the time limit on the card. Max 12 months.
Capital One also offers a virtual account number called Capital One Go. As I understand, it works for recurring charges as well, not limited to 12 months.
Citi offers virtual account numbers (Link). You can find it under the Card Benefits tab in your login. Use the Advanced Options to specify a dollar limit and a time limit to the virtual account number. Max 12 months.
There are a number of smaller companies who built businesses around the virtual account number idea. I haven’t researched these companies to know if they are safe and worth using, but here are the ones I’ve found:
Issuers who Don’t Offer VAN
- Amex used to offer virtual account numbers but stopped in 2004
- Discover discontinued their program in 2014
- Chase and Wells Fargo don’t offer a VAN feature
- US Bank doesn’t offer it with their traditional credit cards, though they do have some sort of business program which runs on virtual account/card numbers
Instant Number with Credit Approval
The primary focus of this post is on card issuers who offer a special feature to be able to continuously generate temporary card numbers upon request. Somewhat related: there are some card issuers who offer an instant card number upon card approval. These are also a virtual card number meant for online use until the physical card comes in the mail. See List of Credit Cards that Issue an Instant Card Number Upon Approval for a complete rundown on this option.
Virtual account numbers can be useful in various circumstances, whether for security reasons or when you want to control a specific charge. Let us know if you’ve seen the feature elsewhere and we’ll add it to the post.