Virtual credit cards: How do they work

An extra layer of protection for when you online shop.

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When you use your credit card to make online purchases, your information can potentially be exposed to fraudsters and hackers. Using a virtual credit card, however, will keep your information safe. It also helps ensure you won’t get locked into certain hard-to-cancel online subscriptions.

How does a virtual credit card work?

Card issuers that offer this feature, provide you with a virtual credit card generator. This allows you to generate random credit card numbers that are connected with your real credit card. You can set dollar limits, expiry date or even make one virtual card usable only at one merchant online. So when you buy online, you use your virtual card number, while keeping your real credit card number safe.

Which credit card issuers offer virtual credit cards?

As of this writing, only two providers offer virtual credit cards — Capital One for all of its cards and Citi on eligible credit cards.

Card issuer Offers virtual card
Apple
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American Express
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Bank of America
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Barclaycard
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Brex
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Capital One
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Chase
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Citi
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HSBC
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Discover
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Luxury card
x
PenFed
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TD Bank
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U.S. bank
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USAA
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Wells Fargo
x

Does American Express have a virtual credit card?

American Express doesn’t have a virtual credit card for consumer use, but it does have it for corporate use with Amex Go. The latter lets mid-size and large companies issue virtual credit cards to their employees for company spending.

Does Chase have a virtual credit card?

Unfortunately, Chase doesn’t offer virtual credit card numbers for online purchases.

Does Discover have a virtual credit card?

As of 2014, Discover has discontinued offering virtual credit card numbers to cardholders. Instead, Discover is focused on supporting digital wallets, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

Does USAA have a virtual credit card?

No, USAA doesn’t offer virtual credit card numbers to its cardholders. Instead, USAA supports digital wallets, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, which serve a similar purpose. The only downside is that digital wallets aren’t accepted everywhere, unlike virtual credit cards.

Does Mastercard have a virtual credit card?

Mastercard doesn’t have its own proprietary virtual credit card feature. Instead, you can use virtual credit card numbers for your Mastercard issued by Citi or Capital One, the only providers that offer this perk.

Does Mastercard have a virtual credit card alternative?

Mastercard has an alternative to a virtual credit card as it offers its own digital wallet called Masterpass. Similar to virtual credit cards, Masterpass helps you hide your credit card information from online merchants. But unlike virtual credit cards that have wide online acceptance, you can only use Masterpass at participating retailers.

Compare credit cards with a virtual card option

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
1.5% cash back on all purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 15.49%, 21.49% or 25.49% variable)
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day.
Citi Simplicity® Card
N/A
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 16.24% to 26.24% variable)
$0
Enjoy one of the longest intro APRs on balance transfers, no late fees, no penalty rate and no annual fee.
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
1.25x miles on all purchases and 10x miles at hotels.com/venture
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 13.49%, 19.49% or 23.49% variable)
$0
Earn 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
Citi Rewards+℠ Card
Earn 2x points at supermarkets and gas stations on up to $6,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 24.99% variable)
$0
The only credit card that automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase - with no cap.
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 15.49% or 25.49% variable)
$0
Earn $150 after spending $500 in the first 3 months.

Compare up to 4 providers

Pros and Cons of virtual credit cards

Pros

  • Secure online shopping
  • No need to get a new credit card if your virtual card is compromised
  • Can set up dollar limits and expiry date of virtual cards
  • Can make one virtual card usable only at one online store
  • Can lock or delete a virtual card number whenever you want

Cons

  • Virtual cards can only be used online or by phone
  • If you’re not tech-savvy, it may feel overwhelming to figure out
  • It’s hard to make returns if your virtual card expires
  • Not recommended to use at merchants who require a physical credit card as proof

Bottom line

Virtual credit cards are an awesome security feature if you often make purchases online. This helps you keep your real credit card information safe while exposing random credit card numbers that you create.

If this is a perk you want, compare credit cards with this feature. If you don’t mind using digital wallets as an alternative compare all credit cards.

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