How to Read a UPC Coupon Code

Years ago, stores would put price tags on everything so the cashier would know how much to charge you for any particular item. No price tag, no sale -- that was the name of the game. Then UPC scanners came into wide use during the 1980s and 1990s, transforming the way we shop for just about everything. But the utility of those bar codes go far beyond simply telling the grocery store cashier what a particular product costs. There's a lot of data in that code -- if you know how to read it. And one of the key things that a bar code can do is read coupons to help you save money.

Just about every UPC coupon code is made up of five sections that include a total of 12 numbers. Each section is used to help match coupons to products and determine the value of the coupon. If you want to get a better understanding of what these codes on your coupons mean, check out the following five steps that explain the basics.

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The UCC Number

Coupon Code UPC
Coupon Code UPC. Bureau of Product Management - Pennsylvania LCB

All coupons should begin with the number 5, which is called the UCC or NSC number. That number of "5" tells the barcode reader that it's scanning a coupon and not a different type of barcode.

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Manufacturer Number

Next comes a five digit (12345 in the photo above) manufacturer number. This number should match the manufacturer number on the product.

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Family Code

The next set of three numbers (678 in the image above) is called the family code. This code is used to verify that the shopper has purchased the product which applies to the coupon.

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Value Code

The two numbers which follow the family code are referred to as the value code. This determines the value of the coupon. However, you can't always tell the coupon value from simply looking at this code. If it says "55" that may not mean you'll get 55 cents off. In other words, the computer can read this code, but the naked eye may not be able to.

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Check Digit

The final number is called a check digit. All UPC numbers contain a check digit which is automatically calculated based on the previous numbers on the UPC symbol.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Most manufacturer grocery coupons use the coding process shown above. There are times when you may receive a grocery coupon that does not have any coupon code. Grocery store coupon game pieces, coupons found inside products such as dog food or cereal, and coupons on packaging like bottle caps and can lids are the most common coupons found without having bar codes. However, it's likely that as time goes by, nearly all coupons will adapt and print UPC codes to make reading them much easier for stores.