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How to find a business's merchant category code

Knowing an MCC can help you score more card rewards

By  |  Published: May 22, 2017

Your Business Credit
Your
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

Ask Elaine a question or read her prior answers in the 'Your Business Credit' archive.

Question Dear Your Business Credit,
How can I find the merchant category code of any business before I actually do the transaction? The tellers don’t even have an idea of what I am talking about in most cases. Thanks for your help! – Adi

Answer Dear Adi,
I can see why you’re frustrated. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on company representatives to find merchant category codes, or MCCs.

For the benefit of readers who aren’t familiar, a merchant category code (MCC) is a four-digit number the credit card networks (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express) assign to every business that applies to accept credit cards. The number corresponds to the type of business or service the company offers.

Credit card networks use MCCs to categorize and track purchases. When a purchase is added to your statement, the category assigned to it, such as “grocery stores, supermarkets,” is tied to the MCC code.

Sometimes, MCC codes are used to prevent certain types of purchases. For instance, a company that issues corporate cards may decide to restrict employees from staying in pricey hotels during business travel by arranging with the network to only cover lodgings with specific MCCs.

So how do you look up the MCC code of a particular business? You can find it on a list the IRS publishes. Each card network – Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover – also has its own list. As a result, a merchant may have a different code with Visa than with Mastercard, for instance. If you are curious about how this works, my previous column – “How can I change my business’s merchant category code?” – goes into detail on how the codes are assigned.

There also are other online resources for MCCs. For Visa cards, you may be able to find a merchant’s code in the Visa Supplier Locator Tool, published online. Mastercard publishes its codes in the Quick Reference Booklet – Merchant Edition. American Express includes its codes in its MCC Directory. I was not able to find a similar guide from Discover online, so if you need those codes, I would suggest asking your merchant processor.

If you make purchases for your business, being aware of MCC codes can help you maximize your credit card rewards. The rewards programs for certain cards will give you points for purchases that are in certain coding categories. Paying attention to how your card is categorizing a purchase can help you get more points, especially if you patronize a particular merchant regularly.

For instance, if your card gives you rewards for restaurant spending, you might want to pay attention to whether a fast-food restaurant attached to a gas station counts as a restaurant or “fuel” and only use that card at the eatery if the gas station location counts as a restaurant.

When in doubt, you can always ask the merchant if he or she knows the code or make a small purchase to find out how it is categorized on your card. The employees may not be familiar with the MCC, but the owner of the business probably will be more aware.

That said, you probably won’t be able to make huge inroads in racking up rewards points this way, but even a few extra points here and there can add up over time. Good luck!

See related: MCC codes unveil consumer shopping habits, Not all travel qualifies for rewards bonus points

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Updated: 08-23-2017

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