What Is a Credit Card Reference Number?

Credit Card Reference Number Explained in Less Than 4 Minutes

A woman checks the status of a credit card transaction
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A credit card reference number is a unique numeric or alphanumeric identifier assigned to credit card transactions, making it easier to locate and identify an individual credit card transaction.

With billions of credit card transactions taking place each day, reference numbers make it easier for institutions to locate individual transactions when necessary for tracking purposes or disputes. The unique numbers are generated and assigned to transactions automatically behind the scenes. Once a transaction has been given a reference number, you can retrieve it from your credit card issuer if you have questions or are concerned about the transaction.

Definition and Examples of Credit Card Reference Number

A credit card reference number is a 23-digit unique identifier given to a specific credit card transaction. The reference number helps merchants and businesses involved with credit card processing to easily look up transactions within their systems.

  • Alternate name: Outgoing acquirer number

A credit card reference number, for example, could be 24041311167000042529377. When you receive a credit card billing statement, you may receive a shortened version of the number, like 9377.

How Do Credit Card Reference Numbers Work?

Credit card reference numbers help you or your bank identify specific credit card transactions. Since each transaction has a unique number, it can be easier to use the reference number rather than look up transactions using the date, location, or transaction amount. If you have a question about a transaction, the reference number can help your card issuer determine the transaction's status or initiate a dispute.

After you make a credit card purchase, the merchant's bank—also referred to as the acquiring bank—generates and assigns a reference number to the transaction and sends the information to your credit card issuer, along with the other transaction details.

Since the acquiring bank, which is responsible for authorizing and clearing transactions, generates the reference number, it's also often referred to as the outgoing acquirer number or acquiring reference number.

It can take several days for the money from a credit card transaction to make it from your credit card issuer to the merchant. In the meantime, merchants and payment processors can use the reference number to determine the status of the funds when necessary.

Once the transaction has a reference number, you can find it in the transaction details of your online account, along with the transaction date, amount, and the name of the business where the transaction took place. A full or redacted version of the number may appear next to each transaction on your credit card billing statement, too. If you're trying to track a refund or dispute, you may want to contact the business where you made the transaction. In some cases, they may be able to provide you with the reference number to share with your bank and ultimately figure out the status.

Pending transactions, or those that have been authorized but not yet posted to your account, may not have a reference number. It typically takes three business days for the settled transaction to have a reference number.

For instance, a reference number may appear as 24041311167000042529377 or  24041311167000042THXYRW. Digits two through seven—404131 in this example—are the bank identification number, a unique number assigned to card issuers like Wells Fargo or Bank of America to help quickly recognize their transactions.

Alternatives to Credit Card Reference Number

Providing the credit card reference number may be helpful for working with your card issuer to identify a specific transaction, but it's not always necessary. If you have a question about a transaction, you can give the customer service representative a few details about the transaction to make it easier to locate. For example, you can provide the date, amount you paid, and name of the business where the transaction was made.

Some credit card issuers make it easy to dispute unauthorized transactions online, too. With Chase, for example, you can click directly on the transaction within your online account and see all the details you may need.

Key Takeaways

  • A credit card reference number is a 23-digit unique identifier assigned to credit card transactions.
  • Providing the reference number can help your credit card issuer locate credit card transactions if you have a question about the status.
  • You can typically find the reference number in your online account or on your credit card statement, if your card issuer makes it available.