What information does a magnetic stripe encode?

A magnetic stripe consists of three tracks. Any combination of the three tracks may be encoded. Standards have been established for specific industries, but if you are looking to use a magnetic stripe for private use such as for a company or for school ID cards, then you do not need to adhere to the predefined standards. PVC card printers and readers may limit the type of data that can be encoded on each track however, so it is best to follow the standards in regards to the format and length of the data you plan to encode. Track density is measured in bits per inch or bpi.

Track One - The first track to be standardized, track one was developed by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) and is still reserved for their use. The track is encoded at 210 bpi with a maximum data length of 79 characters. Typically, the track encodes an 18 digit primary account number and up to 26 alphanumeric characters containing a person's name.

Track Two - Developed by the American Bankers Association (ABA) for online financial transactions, track two is encoded at 75 bpi with a maximum data length of 40 numeric characters. Typically, it encodes a 19 digit account number.

Track Three - Used by financial institutions to store an encrypted PIN code, country code, currency units, amount authorized, subsidiary account information, and other account restrictions. Track three is encoded at 210 bpi with a maximum data length of 107 numeric digits.

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