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Visa Credit Cards vs. MasterCard — Does It Make a Difference?

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If you’re looking for a new credit card, you might wonder whether Visa or MasterCard would be better for you. To help you decide, the Nerds took a deep dive into the two competing payment networks to see how they compare.

The first thing to understand is that neither Visa nor MasterCard actually issues or distributes credit cards. The cards themselves are issued by banks. Visa and MasterCard are networks that process payments between banks and merchants for purchases made with the cards.

With that in mind, Visa and MasterCard probably have fewer differences than you think. Both payment networks offer cardholders added perks such as rental car insurance, fraud security and payment protection. When it comes to deciding on Visa vs. MasterCard, it’s usually more important to consider what the issuing bank is offering in a credit card — such as rewards, cash back or a 0% balance transfer deal — than what the payment processor includes.

Differences between Visa and MasterCard

As far as consumer appeal goes, Visa and MasterCard share a lot more similarities than differences. Both offer multiple tiers of benefits. The higher-level offerings generally include discounted travel and vacation bundles.

Visa’s two levels. Visa offers two levels of benefits: base level and Visa Signature. Most of the company’s base-level cards come with auto rental collision damage coverage, extended purchases warranties, unauthorized purchase coverage, emergency assistance and urgent card replacement. Visa Signature cards include all of the base-level offerings, as well as a 24/7 concierge service and an online portal that gives cardholders access to discounts and special access to entertainment, sporting events, dining and travel.

MasterCard’s three tiers. MasterCard offers three tiers of benefits: base, World and World Elite. The base package offers perks similar to Visa’s. These include auto rental collision coverage, fraud liability protection, emergency travel assistance, card replacement and extended warranties. MasterCard offers one notable service that Visa does not: price protection. If you buy an item with a MasterCard and the price is reduced within 60 days, MasterCard will cover the difference, though there are exclusions.

Nerd note: Although Visa itself doesn’t offer purchase protection, some card issuers that transact through Visa do offer security on price changes.

MasterCard’s World level includes additional perks such as a dedicated personal travel advisor (similar to Visa Signature’s concierge), longer price protection (120 days) and added amenities at certain hotels (such as complimentary breakfast, late checkout and room upgrades). World Elite, MasterCard’s top level, comes with all the benefits of the lower levels and tacks on discounted service at participating rental car companies, reduced prices on airfare and access to the World Elite Cruise and Vacations programs guide, which provides price cuts on cruises and other package trips.

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Do the differences matter?

When you compare credit card benefits to reach your decision, it’s generally more important to compare reward and perks offered by the issuer rather than the payment processor. These include: sign-up bonuses; cash-back rewards; points or miles; purchase protections such as extended warranties or price matching; and travel perks such as free checked bags or airport lounge access.

Check out our favorite cards on both networks: 

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 people with excellent credit. But there are decent credit cards for average credit. Even those working to build or rebuild their credit history have good options among credit cards for bad credit.

The bottom line on Visa vs. MasterCard

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, such as cash back and rewards earnings. This is where you’ll find the most value per dollar.

Updated Oct. 10, 2016

Kevin Cash is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @kevin_cash.

Image via iStock.