Many credit card companies offer users cash back, bonuses, or some other type of rewards for using their credit card for a certain category of purchases. Here are just a few examples:

  • The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card gives users 1 percent cash back on all purchases, 2 percent cash back on purchases made at grocery stores and 3 percent cash back for buying gas
  • The Chase United Airlines MileagePlus Explorer Business Card gives users two miles for each dollar spent on the card at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores and one mile for each dollar spent on all other purchases
  • The American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card gives users 6 percent cash back at grocery stores, 3 percent cash back at gas stations and select department stores, and 1 percent cash back on other purchases.

How are stores categorized?

So, how does your credit card company know whether the store you just shopped at with your credit card is categorized as a grocery store, office supply store or gas station? Your credit card company keeps track of which category each store belongs to by using a special 4-digit code known as the merchant category code (MCC).

Each individual store is responsible for picking which MCC category their specific store belongs to, and different locations of the same store chain can actually have different MCCs. For example, one Walmart in your city might be categorized as “discount store/wholesale/warehouse” whereas another Walmart just a few miles down the road may be classified as “grocery stores/supermarkets/bakeries.”

How do store categories affect rewards?

A store’s MCC applies to all credit card purchases made at that store. For example, if you use your credit card at a Walmart with a grocery store MCC, everything you purchase at that Walmart with your credit card will be treated as if it were a grocery store, even if what you purchased isn’t groceries. So if you used a credit card that offered 2 percent cash back on groceries at a Walmart with a grocery store MCC, you would get 2 percent cash back on all your purchases at that Walmart, even for those purchases that weren’t actually groceries.

Knowing each store’s MCC ahead of time will help you make an informed decision as to which of your credit cards you should swipe at which stores in order to maximize your credit card rewards. For example, my AmEx Blue Cash Preferred Card gives me 6 percent cash back on purchases at stores that are categorized as grocery stores. So to maximize my cash back earnings, I always choose to use that credit card at stores that are categorized as grocery stores according to their MCC.

How to find a store’s MCC code:

You can look up a store’s MCC on the the Visa Supplier Locator database. On the site, you can enter a store’s name and its address or zip code to find out which MCC the store reports back to Visa for Visa purchases.
Note: While other credit card issuers like AmEx or MasterCard don’t have to use the same MCC as Visa, in the vast majority of situations, all credit card issuers typically seem to assign the same MCC to each store. Since there aren’t publicly available MCC databases for credit card issuers other than Visa, you’ll have to rely on using the Visa database no matter what type of credit card you have.

  • Step 1: Click here to visit the Visa Supplier Locator database website.
  • Step 2: Enter the name of the store whose MCC you want to look up in the “Supplier Name” box. Enter that store’s address or zip code in the “Supplier Address” box. Then press the yellow “Search” button.

  • Step 3: The site will display a map showing the location of the store. Click on the “Show Full List” option.

  • Step 4: Review your results. The MCC for each store location will be listed in the “Industry/MCC” column.