What is a credit card authorization number

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Card readers act as your business’s point-of-sale and as your primary communicator with card issuers. When customers swipe, insert, or tap their credit cards, the transaction information is sent to the card network and then used by card issuers to authorize or decline purchases.

Card issuers will send merchants alphanumeric codes to provide further details on their decisions to authorize or decline purchases. These are known as credit card response codes. Sometimes, correctly deciphering these codes could make the difference between landing a sale, building trust with your customers, and protecting your business from fraudulent charges.

After receiving a response code, each transaction (whether approved or declined) will be designated a unique 5-6 digit authorization code. These authorization codes carry valuable purchase information and can be used by merchants and card issuers to contextualize particular purchases in the event of disputes or chargebacks.

Because it’s in every merchant's best interest to provide a seamless checkout experience, this article will focus on breaking down how credit card response codes work, and how knowing what each code means can protect merchants from chargebacks.

Credit card response codes vs. credit card authorization code

“Credit card response codes” and “credit card authorization codes” are often used interchangeably, and though the distinction isn’t drastically important, it’s worth breaking down.

Typically, response codes come first, followed by the authorization code. For this reason, it’s common for both codes to be simply categorized under one name. But, a purchase can contain multiple response codes but only one authorization code. It’s helpful to think of response codes as the card issuers “instructions” for merchants and authorization codes as a purchase’s “digital receipt” or serial number.

Credit card response codes: These are typically 2-4 digit alphanumeric codes that provide details on a card issuer's decision for permitting or declining a transaction. The exact codes relayed to the merchant and what they mean can depend on the specific card issuer, card terminal, and a merchant’s payment processor. However, there’s a standard set of response codes that are commonly used that we’ll break down later in this article.

Credit card authorization codes: These are usually 5-6 digits long and accompany transactions whether or not they’re approved. These codes work to specify sales, verify transactional information, and hopefully, authenticate purchases.

“Approved” response codes

The response code every merchant wants to receive is the approval code. This code denotes two important things:

  • The account being used to make the purchase has adequate credit to cover the charge
  • The account is not currently under suspension, either from suspicious behavior, having been reported as stolen, or other various security reasons

The approval code is simply denoted as “00” or “85”.

It might be tempting to think that because a transaction is granted an approval code, you won’t be at risk of a disputed transaction and, ultimately, a chargeback on the purchase. But this isn’t always the case. Fraudulent behavior can still occur on transactions given approval codes and don’t necessarily guarantee that the card isn’t being used nefariously or from a compromised state.

“Declined” response codes

Response codes following a declined transaction fall primarily under three different groups:

Fix something, then rerun the card: These codes, while not as favorable as approval codes, are still preferred over the other 2 types of declined response codes.

These codes provide various reasons a card may have been processed incorrectly, how the issue can be fixed, and a recommendation to try rerunning the card.

“13” denotes the transaction amount being entered incorrectly, for example, a positive amount being entered for a refund or a negative amount for a purchase.

“14” denotes a card number being entered incorrectly.

“19” denotes an unspecified card processing error; try rerunning the card.

“51” denotes a debit card PIN being entered incorrectly.

“82” denotes an incorrect CVV being entered.

“96” denotes an issue on the part of the card reader; try rerunning the card.

“CR” denotes a chip card being removed prematurely and needing to be inserted again.

Ask for another form of payment: These codes mean there’s an issue stopping the card from being approved that’s not immediately fixable. For this reason, the code will explain what the issue is, and then recommend the merchant ask the customer for a different form of payment.

“05” denotes “do not honor”. The card issuer is declining the card from being used and the cardholder needs to contact their card issuer to resolve the issue.

“06” denotes an unspecified issue on the part of the card issuer.

“51” denotes insufficient funds or credit.

“54” denotes an expired card.

“65” denotes a card’s activity limit being exceeded.

“93” denotes a general violation on the part of the cardholder.

Confiscate the card/report cardholder/contact card issuer: These codes are sent out when a transaction is flagged as a suspicious transaction. For example, this could be a reported stolen card being used, a card being used states or countries away from the cardholder's billing address, or a purchase being made outside the rightful cardholder’s typical spending habits.

These codes will provide merchants with details for the decline and instructions on what to do next. Confronting customers about suspected credit card fraud can create conflict if not handled correctly. Refrain from telling the customer your concerns because this could be accusatory if the customer is the rightful cardholder. This could also create a dangerous encounter if the fraudster feels they’ve been figured out.

One option is to mark down the transaction details, return the card, and then ask for another form of payment. Another option is to call the card issuing bank and tell the operator you have a code 10 authorization request, in which case they’ll then instruct you on what to do using a series of yes or no questions. Or, if you feel unsafe, contact the authorities.

See: What to do if you suspect credit card fraud by a customer

“02” denotes a request to contact the card issuer.

“04” and “07” denote a request from the card issuer to confiscate the card.

“41” and “43” denote a request from the card issuer to seize the card due to the card being reported as stolen or used fraudulently.

Closing thoughts

Credit card authorization codes can provide crucial instruction for merchants. They can help merchants avoid fraudulent charges, assist card issuers in recovering stolen cards, and support customers with various card difficulties. For this reason, it’s beneficial for business owners to acquaint themselves with common response codes and contact their payment processor to learn about any codes they use that are unique to them.

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