When you look at the front of your credit card, you’ll see two things: The issuer (or bank) and the network.
The issuer is the bank that is extending you credit. When you use a credit card to buy something from a merchant, the issuer pays for it, and then you pay your issuer. There are thousands of card issuers, from giants like Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo all the way down to your local single-branch credit union. Many credit cards bear the name of a store or other merchant, but they’re actually issued by a partner bank.
The network is the company that processes transactions on the card. When you make a purchase with your card, the network makes sure that the money for it gets from your issuer to the merchant’s bank and that the sale is properly charged to you so that your issuer can collect. There are four primary networks in the U.S.: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover. (American Express and Discover act as both issuers and networks.)
Here are NerdWallet’s favorite credit cards from major issuers:
You also might want to take a look at NerdWallet’s best credit union credit cards.
Interested in Visa or Mastercard specifically? First learn about the difference — there isn’t much of one — then check out our favorite credit cards within each network: