What is a cardholder name: man holding a credit card
Intermediate

What is a cardholder name, and why does it matter?

Highlights:

-A cardholder name is a security feature that proves you are the authorized user of the credit or debit card. 

-The name on your card could be your full legal name, it could use initials, or you could be permitted to use a preferred name.

-Credit and debit cards pack in a lot of useful safety features in a small space. Everything on your card has a purpose. 

When we meet someone new, the first thing we share about ourselves is our name. If you fill out an application for a job or college, the first field you fill in is also likely your name. Whether personal or professional, our names are how we are often identified and remembered. 

This is also true for our bank accounts, credit cards, and debit cards. While a bank may issue you an individual bank account number to track your account, your name still matters when they need to make sure it's you who is accessing the account. 

In the case of debit and credit card companies, they use something called a cardholder name to help secure your accounts. It may seem pretty simple but understanding it is an important part of knowing how to keep your credit safe and secure. 

What is a cardholder name, and why is it important? In this blog, we’re going to answer these questions and more. 

What is a cardholder name?

A cardholder name is the name on the front (or sometimes the back) of your credit card or debit card. It is a very important security feature for both in-person and online transactions. 

With in-person transactions, the name on the card lets the merchant know who is authorized to use the card. If a charge is disputed and it comes to light that the merchant allowed someone other than the authorized user to transact with them, the merchant may be forced to refund the purchase, even though they provided the goods or services paid for.  

To combat this, merchants may ask to verify that you are the authorized user of the card before allowing you to use it. They can do this by requesting the customer show them government-issued identification that has a matching name and a photo. This could be a driver’s license, passport, or an I.D. card issued by your home state. Some credit and debit cards let you set a private four-digit PIN you can use at the register instead of providing I.D. 

If the transaction is done online or over the phone, the merchant will ask for the “name on card” exactly as it’s printed. They’ll also want some other information from the card like the CVV or CVC (card verification value/code) number to prove that you have possession of the card. 

These questions will come along with a request for personal information that is not displayed on the card like your address and phone number. Credit card companies have sophisticated fraud detection systems that check where a transaction came from and to see if the transaction fits the customer’s patterns. These systems use many data points to figure out if they should approve the transaction or decline it and investigate further. 

Do you need to use your full legal name for a cardholder name?

Woman writing on a notebook

When opening a bank account or a credit card, you are required to provide them with your full legal name. Anti-money laundering laws make it a legal requirement. 

In some cases when you check your credit report, you may see several slight variations on your name as it's been used by banks and creditors. Each time a bank displays it differently, you could see a record of that in your credit report

Although you must provide the bank with your full legal name, how it is printed on the card may be different. 

Some credit card companies will default to certain name structures, like just posting the first initial instead of your first name. Some may print your middle name or initial, while others won’t. Also, if you have a particularly long name, they may cut off some of the letters to make it fit their template. 

It’s not just the structure that can be different though. Some banks will allow customers to print their preferred name on their credit or debit card. Mastercard has even created the True Name program in service to transgender and nonbinary people who feel their legal names aren’t representative of their current identity.

Does your cardholder name need to match your bank account?

Different banks have different rules. Some will let you change to a preferred name, and others will require your card to match your bank account and legal name. If they allow you to use a preferred name, they will either let you apply for the card in that name, or they may require you to open the card in your legal name and put in a request for a name change later. 

In any case, the bank would maintain the account under your legal name, but the name displayed on your card could potentially be different. 

What are other components of a credit and debit card?

A brief glance at your debt or credit card will show you there’s a lot going on. Answering a cardholder's name only takes you so far in understanding how these cards work. 

While not all credit and debit cards are structured the same, these are some common features you’ll find on most of them. 

Logo

On most credit or debit cards there are two logos. One will be the bank, credit union, financial institution, or brand of the card (like the Greenlight debit card). The other will tell you the payment network that card works on. This will usually be Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or American Express. 

Credit card number or debit card number

This is the 15 or 16-digit number that likely begins with a three, four, five, or six, depending on the payment network. Your credit card number is traditionally on the front of the card, but it’s becoming more common now to place it on the back of the card instead. 

Expiration date or expiry date

This is the date the card expires and you’ll be sent a new card by the credit card issuer. This date is usually formatted as a two-digit month followed by a two- or four-digit year. Your expiration date is commonly asked for when you are making a purchase online or over the phone. It’s usually found close to your card number. 

EMV chip

This is the rectangular microchip that is usually on the front of your card toward the right. The EMV chip securely transmits data to a reader so your transaction can be completed. 

Magnetic stripe

This thin strip on the back of your card just above the bottom extends horizontally from end to end. While it’s not used as much as the EMV chip, if there is no chip reader, this allows you to swipe your card to complete a transaction. 

CVV/CVC

Sometimes known as your security code, this is a three- or four-digit number that is usually on the back of your card in the signature line. On some cards, it will be on the front. When making a phone or internet purchase, you’ll generally need to provide this number to the merchant. 

Small print

Usually on the back bottom of the card, there will be some small print. This print contains the phone number and website the account holder can use to speak to customer service or get quick information like account balance or payment due date. 

Cardholder names help secure your account

Customers paying using a credit card

Hooray! Now you know what a cardholder name is. Quick refresher: It’s the name displayed on your credit or debit card that helps everyone know that you are the authorized user. A cardholder name can be displayed in many different formats, and sometimes you can even choose a name that makes you feel more comfortable than your legal name if your card provider allows it. 

The cardholder name is just one of many useful security features contained on your small plastic card. Each number, word, and microchip on your card is important for your experience and for keeping your account secure. 

Greenlight’s customizable debit card goes beyond just security features. You can make your debit card just as personal as your financial journey by adding a selfie or your favorite photo. Then, take advantage of your Greenlight account to help you learn valuable money skills, like saving and investing. 

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