A virtual credit card is a free service that creates a unique credit card number for every new transaction when shopping online. Some banks, including Capital One and Citi, offer virtual credit card options linked to your traditional credit card account. To learn about details on where and how to use virtual credit cards, along with the pros and cons of virtual credit cards, see below.
Where Can Virtual Credit Cards Be Used?
A virtual credit card offers an added layer of security when making purchases online — but virtual credit cards cannot be used in stores. Unlike a traditional credit card, which has a set of numbers and other identifying information physically imprinted on it, a virtual credit card generates a disposable number for each transaction. This one-time use approach helps reduce the risk of fraud and prevents merchants from storing useable credit card information.
How To Get a Virtual Credit Card
Most banks offer virtual credit card options for eligible accounts. If your current account isn’t eligible, you can apply for one to receive access to virtual credit card features. Here are three bank options:
- Capital One’s virtual credit card option is through its own intelligent assistant, Eno. Eno is a free browser extension for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox that can be linked to your eligible Capital One credit card. Eno is merchant-specific, meaning it has the ability to save the same virtual credit card number for ongoing payments or to autofill your card information when you visit the online retailer in the future. (For the list of Capital One store-branded credit cards, see our article.)
- Select Citi credit cards include access to a Virtual Account Number feature that also generates a unique number for you to use when shopping online. The service is free.
Terms and conditions will vary by company, but, in general, you can set the expiration date (usually up to a year) and set spending limits. These added customizations help to further protect your primary credit card account information.
How To Use a Virtual Credit Card
In general, a virtual credit card number can be created when you log in to your online banking or credit account — or through a browser extension app, like Eno. Before checking out at an online retailer, utilize the virtual credit card feature to create a unique card number. Charges from a virtual credit card will continue to appear on your usual monthly statement. Some banks also offer virtual credit card options for setting up auto-pay for bills and subscriptions.
The Pros and Cons of Virtual Credit Cards
The major benefit of using a virtual credit card is the added protection it provides from misuse and security breaches. Additionally, there is no need to get a new physical card if your information is somehow compromised. On the other hand, one of the major disadvantages of virtual credit cards is that they are currently only accepted at online retailers. And, since virtual credit card numbers are most often single-use, returning items may prove to be difficult. Similarly, certain reservations, such as hotels and car rentals, require the same credit card you booked with, which is impossible with a disposable virtual credit card number.
Virtual credit cards can help reduce the risk of fraud when shopping online. By generating a new credit card number with each transaction, your account information stays safe. Institutions like Capital One and Citi currently offer virtual credit card services. For more information on credit cards, see our article: Instant Approval Credit Cards + Cards You Can Use Immediately.