Normally when you are approved for a credit card, a physical credit card is mailed to you. That card lists the credit card number you’ll use to make purchases. Some issuers may allow you to access the card number online before the card arrives in the mail, but you still get one credit card number you’ll use for all your purchases.
A virtual credit card number is similar in that you can use it to make purchases, but you don’t receive a physical card with the number. Instead, these cards offer a digital card number that is created online or through an app. Where you will only have one card number associated with a regular credit card, you can have multiple virtual card numbers.
A virtual credit card number will often be tied to a credit card account, but it may also be associated with a bank account or a line of credit. Card numbers may be available for single-use purchases, or multi-use (to pay for a monthly subscription or other recurring payments, for example).
For entrepreneurs, it’s similar to creating a fictitious business name or “DBA”. It allows you to create multiple card numbers that ultimately track back to the parent account.
The use of virtual cards is growing, especially for business purchases. According to Jupiter Research:
“B2B payments accounts for the majority of the virtual cards transaction value, and is set to make up 71% of the total value in 2026.The global value of virtual card transactions will reach $6.8 trillion in 2026, from $1.9 trillion in 2021.”
Pros And Cons Of A Virtual Credit Card Number
While the benefits of virtual credit card numbers generally outweigh the drawbacks, there are pros and cons to be aware of.
Virtual Credit Card Number Pros:
1. Immediate issuance. Once the customer relationship is established, virtual card numbers can be created immediately. There’s no waiting a week to ten days for a card to arrive in the mail. Cardholders simply go online or to the issuer’s mobile app to create them on the fly.
2. Better expense management. Virtual card numbers can be created for use with a specific merchant, for example, or for use by an individual employee or contractor. You may set spending limits or restrict purchases to certain merchants. This allows for better control over where and how the card is used, and makes them an excellent way to manage spending.
3. Reduce card failure. If you use a card with a single account number and that card is lost or stolen, you’ll have to update your account number with any subscriptions or merchants or your card will be denied. That’s a hassle that can be avoided with virtual card numbers. Additionally, cards may be declined for myriad reasons including a mismatch between the account information of the person using the card and the business that’s ultimately paying for it. A virtual card may be more flexible, depending on the issuer’s policies.
4. Enhance security. While credit cards are the safest payment method due to federal laws that limit out-of-pocket costs for most fraudulent use, virtual card numbers offer an additional layer of protection. If the virtual card number is compromised through a data breach, for example, it won’t reveal the actual card number or account details. In addition, you’ll typically set up parameters for use such as specific merchants, spending limits, expiration date, etc. that limit how and where the number can be used.
It’s also easy for a cardholder to deactivate that single number while still retaining access to the actual card, either by using the physical card number or creating other virtual card numbers.
5. Earn rewards. If you have a rewards credit card that earns miles or cash back, you can still accrue card benefits on purchases made with a virtual account number associated with that account.
Virtual Credit Card Number Cons:
1. Mismatched technology. There are times when the information from the virtual card won’t match up perfectly with the information required to checkout during online shopping, leading to a frustrating experience.
2. Limits on in-store purchases. These cards are designed primarily for online purchases, although they can also be used for in-person purchases using a digital wallet where available. Though it is less common today than in the past, there may be times when you need a physical card to complete a transaction.
3. Limited availability. Not all card issuers offer virtual card numbers, or functionality may vary among issuers.
4. Returns may be a hassle. You may encounter problems with some returns if you don’t keep a receipt from your transaction. From time to time, retailers will have difficulty refunding purchases made with virtual card numbers.
5. Credit card fraud is still possible. Consumers who aren’t savvy about protecting their financial information could be tricked into sharing virtual card details with a fraudster. Or a hacker could get ahold of the number if the cardholder saves it in an easily accessible place (for example, via a saved screenshot or photo).
How To Get A Virtual Credit Card Number
The easiest way to get a virtual credit card is to get one from your credit card issuer. Not all card issuers offer virtual cards, however, so if this benefit appeals to you, look for one that does.
With small business credit cards, some major issuers offer the option of creating virtual cards. For example:
American Express Go allows you to create virtual cards and send them to employees via the Amex GoTM mobile app.
CapitalOne Spark Small Business Credit Cards allow you to create virtual card numbers in your online account or from a Google Chrome web extension called Eno.
Chase commercial cards offer virtual cards. Chase Ink cards offer Click to Pay which is slightly different and is limited to certain merchants.
Dash.fi allows you to create unlimited virtual cards instantly. It also allows you to adjust certain details such as your card billing address so your ad agency can use your card without risking card failure due to a mismatch of that credit card information.
You may be able to use a virtual card in conjunction with a digital wallet:
Google Pay: If your card issuer offers virtual card numbers, you can turn this feature on in your Google pay account. After adding your credit or debit card to Google Pay you can turn on a virtual card number and then use that for online payments or in-app purchases.
Apple Pay: You can create a virtual card number for purchases with your Apple Card when Apple Pay is not accepted.
In addition there are third-party service providers that allow you to create virtual cards tied to your bank account or debit card. Keep in mind, though, that there are fewer protections with these payment methods than with credit cards, so proceed with caution.