Billing DescriptorsExploring the Crucial Link Between Descriptors & Customer Satisfaction

May 18, 2023 | 13 min read

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Billing Descriptors

In a Nutshell

A faulty billing descriptor could be causing more headaches for you than you realize. This article will detail how optimizing billing descriptors can not only improve your overall customer experience, but also help reduce the number of chargebacks you receive each month.

10 Tips to Optimize Your Billing Descriptors & Protect Your Revenue From Invalid Disputes

Anytime you complete a transaction online, a record of that sale pops up on your customer’s billing statement. The “billing descriptor” is the name the customer sees in connection to the sale. It identifies your business and the total price of the goods or services purchased.

You might not pay much attention to how those charges appear on the customer’s end… but your customers do.

The way your descriptor shows up is important. Even if you don’t realize it, failing to optimize your billing descriptor could have a major impact on your bottom line.

What is a Billing Descriptor?

Billing Descriptor

[noun]/bil • ing • də • skrip • tər/

A billing descriptor is the identifying text displayed on a customer's credit or debit card statement. Descriptors provide information about a transaction and the business related to the charge.

Billing descriptors (sometimes called “account descriptors”) are one of those business details you may not always recognize the impact they have right away. One could say they’re hidden in plain sight…and for good reason.

Businesses generally establish billing descriptors when they set up their merchant accounts. These descriptors typically stay consistent for every transaction (at least for every transaction of the same kind). Individual transactions are distinguished by payment reference numbers, which are shown next to the billing descriptor on the card statement.

Your billing descriptor is like a “numerical fingerprint.” Banks and credit agencies can use it to identify your business.

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Why Do Billing Descriptors Matter?

Customers rely on billing descriptors to identify transactions, and if the descriptor is unclear, they are more likely to suspect fraud and file a chargeback as a result.

Imagine a situation in which you’re a cardholder, and you’re reviewing your credit card statement. You see a charge you couldn't recognize, and although you try to identify the company name or the cost of the product, you’re drawing a blank.

Your first reaction was likely to assume your card had been compromised and to contact your credit card company to report the issue, right? Well, your customers would probably respond in a similar manner.

The cardholder calls the bank's customer service line to report an unrecognized charge. This call would trigger a chargeback, initiating a time-consuming and expensive process for you to rectify. Not only would you lose the revenue from the sale during the chargeback investigation, but you would also incur non-refundable chargeback fees.

What Does a Standard Billing Descriptor Include?

Descriptors typically range from 20-25 letters, although the length depends on the issuing bank. Some issuers may truncate the descriptor, causing confusion. Abbreviations can help prevent truncated descriptors and convey a more precise message— but be wary of being too vague! 

A standard billing descriptor may include the merchant’s name. This is the name of the business responsible for the charge; often a shortened, yet still recognizable version of the “doing business as” (or “DBA”) name.

The descriptor may also include any of the following elements:

  • Location: This could encompass the city, state, or country of the transaction or the online domain for online businesses.
  • Date of Transaction: As the term implies, the date on which the purchase or transaction occurred.
  • Transaction amount: The total charge for the transaction, including taxes and additional fees.
  • Phone Number: If the business name is short enough, the descriptor may also sometimes include the business's phone number.
  • Authorization Code / Transaction ID: A unique identifier for each transaction, useful for tracking or referencing the specific charge.
  • Descriptor Code: Some descriptors may feature a category indicator, referencing the type of product or service purchased.
  • Status: Descriptors may include the term "pending" or a similar phrase until the transaction is settled.

Descriptors are set on a per-account basis. Each merchant ID (or “MID”) has its own descriptor. So, if you have multiple MIDs, you may have multiple different billing descriptors.

These components may differ slightly based on the financial institution, payment processor, or merchant's specific practices. Ultimately, though, remember that the primary objective of a billing descriptor is to deliver clear and concise information, enabling customers to easily recognize and understand their transactions.

Billing Descriptor vs. Payment Reference Number

A payment reference number comprises a unique blend of letters and numbers that identify a specific transaction. These references apply to more than just card payments, as they are also used in bank transfers. In contrast to billing descriptors, which should consist of recognizable words and numbers, payment references are formed from random combinations of letters and numbers.

Payment reference numbers serve a different purpose than billing descriptors. When a customer reviews their account statement and observes the payment reference, it doesn't reveal the purchased item or the business it was bought from. That's solely the function of the billing descriptor. However, customers can use payment references when discussing a particular transaction with their bank.

With the combination of billing descriptors and payment references, customers have the necessary information to identify a transaction and reach out to their issuing bank regarding any concerns.

“Soft” vs. “Hard” Billing Descriptors

As mentioned above, descriptor length is usually limited to between 20-25 characters. It commonly includes your business name and, in some cases, your address and phone number at the end. 

However, there is more than one type of billing descriptor you need to know about:

Soft Billing Descriptors

A soft descriptor appears on a customer’s online statement immediately after their bank authorizes a transaction. The soft descriptor is a temporary note that will be replaced once the transaction is finalized. Until then, the soft descriptor works as a placeholder, noting a pending transaction in progress.

Hard Billing Descriptors

The hard descriptor is the permanent merchant billing information that replaces the soft descriptor on the customer’s statement. Transaction settlement typically takes a few days, but once a transaction settles, the hard descriptor will appear on the buyer’s statement, along with a final price for the goods or services purchased.

Issuers may send chargeback alerts based on the transaction's associated descriptor. When merchants acquire new merchant accounts, the corresponding descriptors must be shared with the alert vendor to activate services.

“Static” vs. “Dynamic” Billing Descriptors

Soft and hard descriptors aren’t the only distinction to make here. We also need to contrast so called “static” billing descriptors with “dynamic” ones:

Static Billing Descriptors

Typically, static descriptors feature the business name alone. This can be a suitable choice for businesses providing a single product or service. For instance, if your company operates as a SaaS entity, offering a sole CRM software product, a static billing descriptor would likely suffice in helping customers identify charges from your organization on their card statements.

Dynamic Billing Descriptors

A dynamic descriptor is a customized billing descriptor you’re able to configure for each individual transaction via an API. For example, a dynamic descriptor can provide individual transaction details, such as listing the goods or services purchased. Some processors offer only soft dynamic descriptors, while others provide both soft and hard dynamic descriptors.

You may also have a fixed prefix, and a dynamic suffix. This fixed prefix is what's also know as a shortened descriptor.

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Why Adopt Dynamic Billing Descriptors?

Dynamic billing descriptors can also have a big impact on your overall chargeback ratio.  It lets you provide more detailed and customized information on a customer's credit card or bank statement for each transaction. You’re able to avoid many points of confusion that might lead to chargebacks. 

Here are five ways in which dynamic billing descriptors help prevent chargebacks:

#1 Enhanced Recognition

Painting a more detailed and accurate picture of each transaction, dynamic descriptors make it easier for customers to recognize the charges on their statements. This can help prevent chargebacks due to unrecognized transactions, which are a common cause of disputes.

#2 Clear Communication

Dynamic billing descriptors allow you to include additional information about the specific product or service purchased, making it easier for customers to understand and remember the transaction. This clarity can reduce the likelihood of customers disputing charges due to confusion or misunderstanding.

#3 Real-Time Updates

You can update dynamic billing descriptors in real-time, which means you can modify the information as needed for each transaction. This flexibility can help address customer concerns or issues quickly.

#4 Improved Customer Support

Dynamic descriptors often include a customer service phone number or other contact information. This makes it easier for customers to reach out with questions or concerns before initiating a chargeback. Prompt and effective customer support can help resolve issues and prevent disputes from escalating.

#5 Tailored to the Business

You can customize dynamic billing descriptors to suit your specific business or industry, ensuring that the information provided is both relevant and useful. This customization helps buyers understand the nature of the charge and reduces the likelihood of chargebacks due to confusion.

Dynamic billing descriptors are a valuable tool for merchants. They can help prevent chargebacks by providing customers with more detailed, clear, and relevant information about their transactions. By reducing misunderstandings and improving communication, you’re better positioned to enhance customer satisfaction and safeguard your revenue.

Top 10 Billing Descriptor Best Practices

As mentioned above, optimizing billing descriptors is one of the easiest things you can do to prevent chargebacks. It’s also one of the most effective. Implementing a few billing descriptor best practices can help you improve customer satisfaction, reduce chargebacks, and minimize disputes… all in one place. 

With that in mind, here are the top ten best practices for crafting more effective billing descriptors:

Use Your “DBA” Name

Ensure the name on the billing descriptor is recognizable and accurately represents your business. This helps customers identify the transaction and reduces the likelihood of disputes due to confusion.

Many businesses have a legal name that goes on their important filings and a separate name for use by customers. For example, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (DCPI) is the legal name of The Disney Store. How many cardholders do you think know that, though?

Simplify Descriptors

Use simple and straightforward language to describe the transaction. Avoid using jargon or abbreviations that may be confusing to customers. You may want to include your website domain name and, if using a dynamic descriptor, a very brief description of the item purchased.

Include Product Details

Provide specific details about the product or service purchased, such as product names or subscription details. Beyond this, include a code or category indicating the type of product or service purchased, such as "Restaurant" or "Online Shopping." This can further clarify the transaction for customers and reduce the likelihood of disputes.

Own Your Trade

Use both your trade name and domain name regularly on your website, while still distinguishing the two. This will help remind customers of where the purchase originated.

You should mirror this effort on social media from time to time, too. Many customers will purchase directly from their favorite channels, rather than your website.

Don’t Display Location

For eCommerce businesses, do not include the city, state, or country where the transaction occurred. This may confuse the buyer. Instead, it’s much more effective to include the online domain. This helps customers associate the charge with a specific purchase.

Add a Phone Number

Provide a readily accessible customer service phone number or email address in the descriptor. This enables customers to reach out with any questions or concerns before initiating a chargeback.

Also, your customer service line should be visible in your billing descriptor in case customers have questions about a charge. Customer service should be accessible 24 hours a day, with live service during as much of that time as possible.

Update in Real-Time

If you're using dynamic billing descriptors, update them in real time to reflect any changes or modifications to the transaction. This ensures that customers always see the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Regularly Test Descriptors 

Regularly test your billing descriptors to ensure they appear correctly on customer statements. Review the descriptors to identify any potential issues or areas for improvement.

Remember Updates

In addition to regular testing, you should also conduct new tests any time you do a major update or overhaul. If you change platforms or edit a catalog, for instance, run another series of tests. Better safe than sorry.

Monitor & Respond to Trends

Analyze chargeback data to identify trends and address any recurring issues. Use this information to refine your billing descriptors and reduce the likelihood of future chargebacks.

Become a Billing Pro

Your billing descriptor says a lot about your business. It’s absolutely essential to put your best foot forward. Optimizing your descriptors can help you place your business on the right track toward reducing chargebacks, improving brand recognition, and encouraging a positive shopping experience for your customers.

Once you’ve established what you sell, how you sell is the next logical step. Knowing how your business is being represented across all formats, from billing descriptors to public perception, is part of the process.

Savvy merchants understand that no area in your business is too minor to invest effort. Therefore, tightening up something as simple as your merchant descriptors should be a small challenge that will pay off repeatedly in the long run.

Have questions about your billing descriptors and where to get started? Continue below to learn more.


What is a billing statement descriptor?

Billing descriptors comprise the identifying text displayed on a customer's credit or debit card statement. They provide information about a transaction and the business related to the charge. Your company's information appears alongside other charges on your customers' credit or debit card statements during the billing period.

What is an example of a billing descriptor?

For an automotive store, which sells fuel filters, a sample descriptor might be “A&B AUTO FILTER 72712345567.”

What should my statement descriptor be?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you use dynamic or fixed billing descriptors. In either case, you need to ensure your descriptors are easy to understand and accurately reflect your business.

How many characters are in a credit card descriptor?

Descriptor length is usually limited to between 20-25 characters that commonly include your business name and, in some cases, your address and phone number at the end.

What is a soft descriptor in consumer credit?

A soft descriptor appears on a customer’s online statement immediately after their bank authorizes a transaction. The soft descriptor is a temporary note that will be replaced once the transaction is finalized. Until then, the soft descriptor works as a placeholder, noting a pending transaction in progress.

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