What is a Virtual Credit Card? Everything You Need to Know

Trisha Miller  | 

With the rise of e-commerce platforms like Amazon, online shopping has become an incredibly popular outlet for both consumers and business owners alike. More and more businesses are integrating online shopping portals into their business model to make their products and services accessible from anywhere.

Thousands of online transactions happen every single day across all corners of the internet — but do you know if your credit card information is safe online? As online shopping becomes easier and more popular, so do identity theft and cyber scams. Getting a virtual credit card is a great way to protect your information and help you shop safer. Below, you can find everything you need to know about getting and maintaining a virtual credit card.

What Is a Virtual Credit Card?

A virtual credit card is a randomly generated credit card number that can be used just like a standard credit card. It is often associated with online shopping for the purpose of keeping your card information safe from identity theft and hackers. With a substantial rise in credit card fraud and theft year over year, credit card companies are choosing to fight back. This idea was invented to protect customers and ensure that their personal information stays safe when shopping online.

The customer is given complete control over the virtual number, which means you can choose how much money you want to spend with your virtual credit card number. In addition, you also have control over how long the virtual number can be used.

You may set an expiration date that voids the virtual number after a certain amount of days, weeks, or months. Many companies have a limit on how long you’re able to keep the number active. Often, the maximum time limit a virtual credit card may stay active is around a year.

How Do I Use a Virtual Credit Card?

Virtual credit card numbers technically can be used anywhere you would make a normal credit card purchase. However, you don’t get a physical credit card with your virtual number because virtual credit cards are geared for online purchases. Most storefront shops require a physical card that can be swiped, or a chip that can be read, in order to authenticate the purchase. This makes virtual credit cards most useful for when you know you’re going to be doing some online shopping.

Holiday shopping is a great example of when to use a virtual credit card. Planning ahead and knowing what you plan to spend, and/or most of the purchases that you plan to make can help you create an accurate shopping timeline and spending limit on your virtual credit card.

If you don’t know exactly what you’ll buy or how much you will spend, don’t worry. If you end up going above your originally desired limit, you can always request a new number. Most banks that generate virtual credit card numbers offer this as a complimentary service to their credit card members..

When you have multiple virtual credit card numbers being used, the card number that was used will often show on your individual purchases. This way, you can keep track of exactly which item was purchased, what the full amount of the purchase was, and which specific credit card number was used in the purchase. You won’t have to worry about keeping track of several separate credit card numbers after they have expired, your bank will do that for you.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Virtual Credit Card?

There are two main cons to having a virtual credit card — you likely will not be able to use it at a physical retailer, and cash refunds are nigh impossible. If you make a purchase with your virtual card and are unhappy with it, the money cannot be refunded to that virtual card number after it has expired.

This could mean that you’ll have to settle for store credit instead of an actual refund. If you’re worried about running into issues regarding a product that needs to be returned, simply opt for your card number to stay active for a longer period of time that includes a window for a possible return.

One of the pros of having a virtual credit card number is the peace of mind that comes with knowing your confidential information is safe. Even if your virtual card number is compromised, your bank can deactivate the card number at a moment’s notice and all of the funds can be refunded onto your physical card.

Another pro of virtual credit cards is the freedom to tailor the limit and expiration date to your specific needs. This makes things like shopping seasonally, or for one-time big purchases online simple, easy, and safe.

How Do I Get a Virtual Credit Card?

In order to obtain a virtual credit card number, you must first have a physical credit card. Not all credit card companies offer virtual credit card numbers, so you’ll want to check with your credit card provider to see if they have this service.

Once you have requested the number, your card company or bank will contact you with the details of your virtual credit card number. You will need to keep this information in a safe place so it won’t get compromised, just as you would your traditional credit card number. However, once you have the number in your possession, it’s ready to use.

As long as you are able to plan ahead and loosely predict when you’ll be using your virtual card, you should have no trouble with it. You have complete power over your virtual credit card number. You will know how much can be spent and when it will expire. With a virtual credit card, you can rest assured knowing that your credit card information is being kept safe, and that your money will stay protected at all times.

For more information on credit cards, check out the Fiscal Tiger Credit Card Resource Center.


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Trisha is a writer and blogger from Boise, ID. She is a dedicated vegan, an avid gamer, cat lover, and amateur SFX artist.