Visa Credit Cards vs MasterCard – Does it Make a Difference?

You can trust that we maintain strict editorial integrity in our writing and assessments; however, we receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners and get approved. Here's how we make money.

If you’ve ever turned on a television or opened a magazine, you’ve probably seen advertisements for MasterCard (Priceless) and Visa (Life Takes Visa). But what do these companies actually do and what’s the difference, anyway?

MasterCard and Visa don’t issue credit cards

First, it’s important to understand that MasterCard and Visa do not issue credit cards.  Instead, they make money by processing transactions between your point of purchase and your bank. They have nothing to do with your rewards programs, interest rates, late fees or customer service issues. Simply put, they are payment networks that connect merchant payment terminals with your bank’s credit card department. Because millions of merchants accept huge amounts of credit card purchases every day, banks prefer to use one of these third party networks to process credit transactions.

So should I get a Visa or MasterCard? And does it matter?

Though networks have nothing to do with fees or rewards, they arrange most non-reward “perks.” Your bank (Chase, Bank of America, etc.) is in charge of things like cash back programs and airline miles. But the networks (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, etc.) add perks like fraud protection, car rental insurance, travel insurance, purchase protection and more. When choosing a network, you need to determine which offers the most generous and relevant perks. Visa and MasterCard are pretty similar, but Visa is just a little better. Its advantage is twofold. First, Visa has better “Loss of Use” coverage on car rental insurance. Second, MasterCard offers “Return Protection” on very few cards, whereas Visa Signature offers the service broadly. With exclusivity arrangements falling by the wayside, you are now more likely to be given a choice between networks when approved for a credit card. If your choice is between Visa and MasterCard (and it often will be), we recommend Visa, especially if the card falls under the Visa Signature category.

Visa highlights:

Visa Signature cards offer some pretty awesome perks on top of your bank’s rewards program. Take the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card card for example. Deemed Money magazine’s “Best Rewards Card if you aim to rack up airline miles,” it has an impressive flat 2% rewards rate on all purchases. You receive a sign-up bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel You never have to worry about blackout dates, and there are no limits or expiration dates on miles. The Venture’s Visa Signature status piles on even more benefits. You are granted 24-hour complimentary concierge service, lost luggage reimbursement, purchase security, travel and emergency assistance services, roadside dispatch and more.

Chase Freedom Credit Card
Apply Now

on Chase's
secure website

Another Visa favorite is the Chase Freedom. Though not actually a Visa Signature, it’s much more accessible than the Capital One Venture as it has no annual fee and has a really great signup bonus: Get a $100 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.  The Freedom gives a whopping 5% back on categories that change every three months. These can include gas, groceries, hotels and dining out. Plus, you earn 1% back on everything else and get access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, which earns significant bonuses on online shopping at stores ranging from Express to Ralph Lauren to

MasterCard highlights:

Barclays Arrival Plus Credit Card
Apply Now

on Barclays's
secure website

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is like the Capital One Venture, but possibly better. It offers 2.2% rewards on every dollar spent when you redeem your rewards for travel – 2 miles earned per $1, and 10% of those miles credited back to your account when you redeem as a statement credit against any travel expense. There’s no foreign transaction fee, and the $89 annual fee, waived the first year, is offset by a strong bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. Finally, it’s a World MasterCard, which comes with cool perks like trip cancellation insurance, extended warranty and travel concierge services.

Citi Simplicity is pretty much the best low APR/balance transfer offer out there: 18 months interest-free, with a low 3% balance transfer fee. It also has no annual fee, but what sets it apart is that it has neither a late fee nor a penalty APR, so you won’t see your interest rate jacked up to 30% if you miss a payment. It’s ideal for anyone who needs to make a big purchase and pay it off over time, or for anyone who’s already got some credit card debt.

Other Networks

Of course, Visa and MasterCard aren’t the only networks out there. Discover and American Express are the main competitors. Generally, Discover offers the worst perks (no purchase/return protection, no loss of use coverage on rental cars, and no concierge services). American Express has the best perks but is not, unfortunately, as widely offered or accepted as Visa or MasterCard. American Express has better insurance coverage on both return and purchase protection and offers the same protection on all cards—not just premium offerings. For a good American Express rewards credit card, check out the Starwood American Express. It offers big earnings on hotel stays and some great signing bonuses. But if you’re like most people, you’ll stick with the big guys—Visa and MasterCard—simply because they are so universally accepted.

  • Fanda Zeng

    What a joke, I have Discover, AMEX as well as Visa and Mastercard. The Discover network can be used quite widely as well as Visa and Mastercard. It can run on Union Pay, Dinners club and JCB network, and the FTF is 0 as well. I travel to Asia, especially in Japan and China, Hong Kong a lot, I can use my discover card nearly everywhere, and I do get better currency transfer rate in discover card than Visa! By the way, Discover card now offer protection/ return/ and other benefits, sometimes it is even better than my AMEX.

  • Alisa

    “Deemed Money magazine’s “Best Rewards Card if you aim to rack up airline miles,” it has an impressive flat 2% rewards rate on all purchases.” A lot of good that trash does if you never use the airlines, that’s totally stupid, replace it with something we can actually use. The majority of people will never get on a plane, let alone have the money to even take one. I’ve been on a plane twice in my entire life, and that was when I was 18 and last year (58) What a waste.

    • Mike Mitchell

      It literally says “IF you aim to rack up airline miles”, and most people like to travel for vacations, and having miles makes flights a lot cheaper. And if you are forced into racking up miles, take a vacation. If you have enough miles, you can get a ticket for free

  • Stevie Martin

    I paid a court fine ‘online’ today and received an e.mail as a receipt, immediately !
    Within seconds I received another e.mail from another Magistrates Court Accounts Department thanking me for a payment of £165 ? Checking the info on both mail receipts the £165 was paid by ‘Visa card’, I have a ‘Mastercard’..have I received somebody elses mail or can a mastercard be classed as a Visa card and would it appear on a receipt as paid for by Visa ??

  • kapil

    gud information..

  • Barry Nisman

    Has Chase notified you that their Mastercard was being d/c and all cardholders would be switched to a Visa Account with Chase ?

    • Art Upchold

      I also received a letter from Chase, and don’t appreciate the change after having Master Card for over 20 years with no problem. I hope I can keep it. If I wanted Visa I would have already applied for one.

  • Ivy L

    I have more than 5 credit cards, so I had to cancel some. My question is this article says Discover is bad, so should I switch Discover to Chase Freedom? I also have 3 credit cards from BOA (my bank), and amazon and Macy. I really don’t understand why do those places have their own cards, I want to cancel Macy’s American Express as well. Suggestion please? Thank you!

  • Kristen B

    I’m applying for my first credit card and I have only ever been an authorized cardholder on my dad’s account. I was wondering if the Chase Freedom card would be a good choice as a way to start building my credit. Another source said they are usually relatively easy to apply for.

    • Ruru

      Chase Freedom is a great card in terms of rewards. The only thing I would say is that if you get approved, because since it is your first card, you may end up with a lower credit limit than what you would have gotten if you applied after you had several years of credit history.

  • arkarian

    most important thing – get one with no annual fee

    besides that, depends on what you want. points on purchases are nice, and so are bonus miles for signing up.

  • Rotary Rocket

    Holding 5 forms or more forms of revolving debt could have a negative impact on your credit rating even if they have no balance, not sure what you are on about.

    • Cherlyn Stone

      Not true. In fact, the more revolving accounts the better your credit as long as the debt to credit limit ratio is low. In fact, according to my credit monitoring system, they prefer you to have a whopping 12 accts. As I opened more cards (showing more lenders are willing to give credit) my score climbed dramatically. I never used credit bc I always bought everything with cash out right… Hurt my credit score by not having many accounts.

  • Ramesh M

    Mine has been a very similar experience as yours. I found it hard to “discover” someone who accepted a Discover card even in parts of western Europe.