A user is issued credit after an account has been approved by the credit provider, with which the user will be able to make purchases from merchants accepting that credit card up to a pre-established credit limit.
When a purchase is made, the credit card user agrees to pay the card issuer. The cardholder indicates their consent to pay, by signing a receipt with a record of the card details and indicating the amount to be paid or by entering a PIN. Also, many merchants now accept verbal authorizations via telephone and electronic authorization using the Internet, known as a Card not present (CNP) transaction.
Electronic verification systems allow merchants to verify that the card is valid and the credit card customer has sufficient credit to cover the purchase in a few seconds, allowing the verification to happen at time of purchase. The verification is performed using a credit card payment terminal or Point of Sale (POS) system with a communications link to the merchant's acquiring bank. Data from the card is obtained from a magnetic stripe or chip on the card; the latter system is in the United Kingdom commonly known as Chip and PIN, but is more technically an EMV card.
Other variations of verification systems are used by eCommerce merchants to determine if the user's account is valid and able to accept the charge. These will typically involve the cardholder providing additional information, such as the security code printed on the back of the card, or the address of the cardholder.
Each month, the credit card user is sent a statement indicating the purchases undertaken with the card, any outstanding fees, and the total amount owed. After receiving the statement, the cardholder may dispute any charges that he or she thinks are incorrect. Otherwise, the cardholder must pay a defined minimum proportion of the bill by a due date, or may choose to pay a higher amount up to the entire amount owed. The credit provider charges interest on the amount owed (typically at a much higher rate than most other forms of debt).
Credit card issuers usually waive interest charges if the balance is paid in full each month, but typically will charge full interest on the entire outstanding balance from the date of each purchase if the total balance is not paid.