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Term: Reference Number

1 May 2015

DEFINITION of ‘Reference Number’
A unique identifier assigned to each transaction made using a credit or debit card. A reference number is used to separate distinct transactions in the electronic databases used to monitor transactions associated with a card. Reference numbers are also used to populate the monthly statements that a cardholder receives.

Credit card issuers use reference numbers to make the compiling and querying of millions of transactions easier to manage. These numbers are used both in printed statements that are sent to cardholders periodically, as well as on-line banking statements that a cardholder can access at any time. Reference numbers make it easier to concisely fit the transactions on a sheet of paper, as it requires only the use of a string of alphanumeric characters to describe a transaction rather than spelling out the details of the transaction.

Credit card statements provide a summary of all of the transactions that a cardholder makes during a given time period. Regulations require card companies to provide cardholders with instructions concerning the contents of the statement, as well as how to read and understand the different sections.

Reference numbers make it easier for customers to interact with credit card company customer service representatives as it allows the customer to communicate any problematic transactions to the representative, who can then query the database to obtain more details about the transaction. For example, it is easier to discuss “transaction 123456” than it is to discuss a purchase using descriptive information such as the store and the date of the transaction. The descriptive elements of the transaction are maintained in the transaction metadata in the card company’s database.

Credit card companies link the reference number to a particular card terminal and terminal owner, often assigning further identifications to the terminal owners so that they can understand the transaction made at their business.

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