Understanding merchant category codes is important for business owners and cardholders alike.
You can buy nearly anything with a credit card these days. So, there may be scenarios in which you want to know how your credit card company will identify a purchase.
Examples include when you want to ensure you’ll earn bonus points with a rewards credit card, or if you want to know whether a certain type of purchase will trigger a statement credit benefit provided by your credit card.
In any case, the way credit card networks identify your purchases depends on the merchant category code (MCC) they’re assigned. This guide will explain how merchant category codes work, where you can find this information and the ways knowing a business’s MCC can benefit you.
What is a merchant category code?
An MCC is a four-digit number the major credit card networks (Visa, Discover, American Express and Mastercard) assign to every business that applies to accept credit cards. The number corresponds to the type of business or service the company offers, so many companies in the same industry can have the same MCC.
Generally speaking, credit card networks use MCCs to categorize and track purchases. This especially comes into play when rewarding you with points or cash back based on expenditure made in specific categories. When a purchase is added to your statement, the category assigned to it, such as “building materials” or “car rentals,” is tied to the merchant category code. That said, major airlines and hotels each have their own MCC codes.
List of merchant category codes
MCCs can vary among processors, but there are some common trends. Here are some typical merchant categories, provided by Citi:
- Agricultural services: MCCs 0001-1499
- Airlines: MCCs 3000-3299
- Business services: MCCs 7300-7999
- Car rentals: MCCs 3300-3499
- Clothing stores: MCCs 5600-5699
- Contracted services: MCCs 1500-2999
- Government services: MCCs 9000-9999
- Lodging: MCCs 3500-3999
- Miscellaneous stores: MCCs 5700-7299
- Retail outlet services: MCCs 5000-5599
- Professional services and membership organizations: MCCs 8000-8999
- Transportation services: MCCs 4000-4799
- Utility services: MCCs 4800-4999
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also provides a list of Visa merchant codes, including MCCs that are specific to airlines and hotels. Some of these include:
Airline MCC codes
- Aer Lingus: 3043
- Air Canada: 3009
- Air France: 3007
- Cathay Pacific: 3099
- Delta: 3058
- Icelandair: 3050
- Lufthansa: 3008
- Southwest: 3066
- United: 3000
- Virgin Atlantic: 3144
Lodging MCC codes
- Days Inn: 3510
- Fairmont: 3590
- Hilton: 3504
- Holiday Inn: 3501
- Marriott: 3509
- Omni: 3592
- Sheraton: 3503
- Sonesta: 3591
- Quality Inn: 3508
- Westin: 3513
How to look up a business’s MCC
So, how do you look up the MCC of a particular business? Generally speaking, each credit card network has its own master list, so some merchants will have a different MCC code with different credit card networks. Meanwhile, some codes are shared across all credit card networks, so they’re always the same.
If you have a question regarding how a certain purchase might code on your credit card statement, you can also call the number on the back of your card to ask your issuer.
Why you would want to know a business’s MCC
Whether you’re a consumer or you own or operate a small business, there are a few situations in which you might want to know a business’s MCC. These include:
You want to earn bonus points
If you use credit cards to earn cash back, flexible rewards or points for travel, knowing various businesses’ MCCs can come in handy. After all, many credit cards offer bonus points on certain types of purchases, yet you may not know how a purchase will code on your credit card statement without knowing the MCC.
As an example, let’s say you have the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which offers 6 percent back on up to $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each year (then 1 percent back). If you were considering shopping at a small convenience store that sells groceries but wondering if you would earn bonus rewards on those purchases, knowing the company’s MCC could help.
Your credit card offers statement credits on certain purchases
Maybe you have a credit card that offers statement credits for certain types of purchases, such as travel expenses. An example is the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which offers a $300 annual statement credit that’s good for all purchases that code as travel. In that case, knowing the MCC for a company you plan to book travel with could help you figure out if your purchase would trigger the credit you’re after.
Or maybe you have a card that offers statement credits on eligible restaurant purchases, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card. In this scenario, you would want to watch out for restaurants that may have a different MCC due to their locations. For example, you might want to pay attention to whether a fast-food restaurant attached to a gas station counts as a restaurant or belongs to a fuel MCC — and use that card there if it does count.
You run a business that accepts credit cards
If you run a business that accepts credit cards, your MCC will determine how much it costs you to process them. Note, businesses with “high-risk” MCCs (such as merchants operating in CBD, gaming and gambling industries) generally pay higher fees and often need to shop around for merchant processing contracts designed for those in this category. If your business also experiences a high number of chargebacks, your fees could be higher as well.
The MCCs on your statements can come into play when it’s time to file your business taxes. Specifically, MCCs help determine whether the bank that transfers the money from credit card transactions to your bank account will need to report them to you on Form 1099-MISC.
If you find yourself drowning in fees as an owner of a high-risk business, you could try negotiating with your credit card processor for more favorable terms. If you’re still not happy, consider moving on to another provider — keep in mind, however, that not all of them serve high-risk businesses.
Why isn’t the MCC what you expect?
In some cases, you might look up a store’s MCC and be surprised by what you see. MCCs are usually assigned to stores based on their majority of business activities, which may not be what they appear to be. Alternatively, a particular business may have started out as one thing, and though it’s expanded to include other merchandise, it retains its initial MCC. For instance, a store may have started out as a bookstore, and then expanded to include a coffee shop as well, but its MCC would remain as a bookstore.
Mistaking the MCC of a business you frequent will mostly impact any rewards you hope to earn there. It’s good to know a store’s MCC before you shop so you don’t get disappointed by not receiving the rewards you’d anticipated.
For example, you have a Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card, which gives 2 percent cash back at grocery stores, so you may head to a nearby Target expecting to earn cash back on that purchase. However, Target (like Walmart) is famously not considered a grocery store — rather it’s a superstore since it sells so much more than just groceries. So, if you tend to shop for fresh produce at Target, you may be out of luck.
Another scenario where knowing the MCC of a business is if your credit card has an MCC restriction, such as a health savings account card, which may only be allowed to be used for healthcare costs. If you try to purchase healthcare items at a retailer that also sells other merchandise, your charge will likely be declined.
Different counters within the same store may also be assigned different MCCs. If your preferred drugstore is a CVS Pharmacy inside a Target, purchases made at the pharmacy versus the rest of the store will likely be listed under different MCCs.
There are many situations in which it matters what MCC a business is assigned, and that’s true whether you’re a consumer trying to maximize rewards or a business owner that accepts credit cards. That said, finding a business’s MCC isn’t always easy, especially since each credit card network may assign a different one.
Often, the best way to find a business’s MCC as a consumer involves making a small purchase and seeing how it’s coded on your credit card statement. This strategy may not be ideal, but at least you’ll know a business’s MCC for sure.