A digital, or virtual, credit card is a credit card number that is different from your main credit card account (and plastic card) but is tied to your main account. This allows you to limit how and where the virtual card can be used, adding an extra layer of security to your account, explains Credit Karma. Adding different payment methods to your personal finances can help you keep your money, credit history and credit score in better shape.
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What Are These Cards?
Let’s say you want to make a purchase online, but you’re nervous about using your credit card. You can set up a digital credit card, which is basically a credit card number, expiration date and security code. The virtual card gives you access to use the same amount of credit under the same terms as your main credit card.
You then make your purchase using your virtual credit card information. When you’re done, you can cancel this “card” to make sure no one else can use it. Make sure the charge goes through, you get your product or service and everything is fine before you cancel the card.
You might want to give a virtual card to your child for making specific charges. With virtual cards, you can limit the amount of credit a card can be used for or limit its use to certain vendors. This way, you can control how the card is used.
With more and more non-bank finance and digital wallet apps coming online such as CashApp, Google Pay, Chime and Zelle, these companies are starting to let you tie your credit card to their apps. You then use their app to make a purchase using your credit card account information (you make the charge to your account using your phone, not your plastic card). These aren’t the virtual cards we’re talking about here, but they are a form of virtual credit use tied to a card.
Read More: How a Virtual Bank Account Works
Start With Your Main Card
Digital credit cards use the credit line and limits of your main credit card account, so you’ll need a real credit card to use virtual credit cards that allow you to make purchases. If you’re not sure how to set up a digital card, contact the customer service number on the back of your plastic credit card and ask a customer service rep for help. Some examples of banks with digital credit card services include Capital One and Citi.
Read More: Secured Credit Card vs. Prepaid Debit Card
Setting Up Your Card
To get a virtual credit card, you’ll go to the tool offered by your credit card issuer and follow the steps to generate a virtual card. If you’re a Capital One account holder and want to create one of their virtual cards, you’ll need to add their Eno extension to your Chrome browser. To create a virtual card for a Citi account, visit the Citi website. Once you do this, you’ll get instructions for creating a card.
Set any limits you want, such as credit available or quick expiration date, if your service offers that feature. Write down your card number, expiration date and security code. Make sure to check the name on your card so it’s correct.
Fake Virtual Credit Cards
Believe it or not, it’s legal to create and use fake credit cards – and you might want to do so for some tasks, according to CardRates.com. These virtual cards are generated by a computer system even though they aren’t tied to a real credit card account.
A reason you might do this would be because you don’t have a credit card account and want to access a website area that requires a credit card number, although it's not a purchase. However, be aware it is illegal to try to make a purchase using a fake virtual credit card.
Steve Milano has written more than 1,000 pieces of personal finance and frugal living articles for dozens of websites, including Motley Fool, Zacks, Bankrate, Quickbooks, SmartyCents, Knew Money, Don't Waste Your Money and Credit Card Ideas, as well as his own websites.