Visa vs. Mastercard: Why It Doesn’t Make Much Difference

Both are accepted pretty much anywhere that takes credit cards. But the benefits that matter most don't actually come from Visa or Mastercard.
Paul Soucy, Kevin CashSep 20, 2021
Visa Credit Cards vs. MasterCard: Does it Make a Difference?

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Visa and Mastercard have so much in common that in terms of day-to-day spending, it makes almost no difference which logo appears on your credit card. Both are widely accepted worldwide, and the benefits that matter most to card users aren't determined by whether it's a Mastercard or Visa card.

So when choosing a card, don't spend too much time worrying about the logo. Focus on other features.

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We'll dive into these matters in more depth, but if the summary above is enough for you, you could:

Just about every merchant that accepts credit cards takes both Visa and Mastercard. That's true not only in the U.S., but also internationally, where acceptance is lower for American Express and Discover, the two other big payment networks.

There are just a few exceptions to this near-universal acceptance of Visa and Mastercard. Usually, they occur when a merchant has an exclusive deal with one payment network. Probably the best-known arrangement is at Costco wholesale clubs, which accept only Visa cards. () Similarly, Sam's Club used to take Mastercard but not Visa, although it now accepts both. Even so, such exclusions are rare. You're far more likely to run into a merchant that doesn't take AmEx than one that doesn't take both Visa and Mastercard.

Payment networks require merchants to follow a rule called "honor all cards." What that means is that if a merchant takes Visa, it must take all Visa cards; if it takes Mastercard, it must take all Mastercard cards.

To understand the difference between credit card payment networks and issuers, take a look at a card like the :

Now compare the with the . Citi is the issuer of the latter card, and Mastercard is the payment network.

This card has a higher ongoing rewards rate than the and a different 0% introductory interest period. But that's not because it's a Mastercard rather than a Visa. It's because it's issued by Citi rather than Chase.

There are hundreds of credit card issuers in the U.S., but there are only four major payment networks: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express. (Unlike Visa and Mastercard, American Express and Discover are .)

Although there isn't a lot of difference between Visa and Mastercard, they aren't completely identical. Each payment network makes a suite of benefits available to cardholders. But a couple of caveats apply:

Visa offers three levels of benefits: Traditional, Signature and Infinite:

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Mastercard's three levels of benefits are Standard, World and World Elite:

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A common question about credit cards is: "Which is better, Visa or Mastercard?" The answer, really, is neither. What matters most are the card features determined by the issuer — , , rewards, , perks and more.

For some people, choosing Visa or Mastercard may provide a minor feature or two that acts as an added convenience. But most people would be better off spending time comparing what issuers offer. This is where you'll find the most value per dollar.

Also, keep in mind that which cards you can qualify for will depend on your credit. The best credit card rewards and perks are generally available to . But there are decent . Even those working to build or rebuild their credit history have good options among .

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