Editorial Policy

The Major Credit Card Companies

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
May 22, 2009

There are so many different credit cards available to apply for today, it can get confusing. However, there are essentially four main credit card brands offered by credit card payment processing networks and banks. So while there literally are hundreds of credit card offers, these 4 brands of major credit card companies are marketed through various banks and financial institutions.

VISA Credit Cards

In their little more than 50 years of existence, Visa credit cards have grown into the largest and most widely used payment brand in the world. Visa International, the mother company of Visa credit cards, does not issue credit cards itself. Rather, Visa allows banks and other financial institutions to issue Visa credit cards in its name.

Visa International, in turn, is in charge of processing all the Visa credit card transactions all over the world. The company is owned by more than 21,000 member financial institutions, and Visa International is today the world’s largest and most sophisticated payments processing system.

Visa credit cards can be used pretty much anywhere. There are more than 1 billion Visa-branded cards with cardholders in more than 150 countries totaling more than $3 trillion in transactions every year. You can get Visa credit cards from many leading American banks, including Citicards from Citi, Capital One credit cards, and Bank of America credit cards.

MasterCard Credit Cards

Like Visa, MasterCard International offers one of the most widely recognized credit card brands in the world. Together with Visa, MasterCard spearheaded the worldwide credit card revolution that unfolded over the last 50 years.

Founded in 1966 as the Interbank Card Association (ICA), MasterCard over the years developed into MasterCard Worldwide, a publicly traded company. The company doesn’t issue credit cards itself, but rather franchises MasterCard credit cards and other products and services to the more than 25,000 financial institutions that make up its network of credit card issuers.

Today, MasterCard credit cards are accepted all over the world. The billions of worldwide credit card transactions are processed through MasterCard’s huge electronic processing network, making it easier and faster than ever before to make a payment, no matter where in the world you are. Like Visa, MasterCard credit cards are available from leading American banks, including Citicards from Citibank, Advanta credit cards, Capital One credit cards, HSBC, and Orchard Bank credit cards.

American Express Credit Cards

Founded in 1850, American Express began as an express delivery company. Over the years, Amex evolved into a financial services company offering different types of financial products, including money orders and travelers checks.

American Express pioneered one of the first charge cards more than fifty years ago. The company today has added a wide range of credit cards to its list of offerings. Amex is one of only two credit card issuers that is not affiliated with the Visa or MasterCard brand, but rather issues its own credit cards served by its own payments network.

Amex credit cards are today the third most popular credit cards in the Unites States after Visa and MasterCard credit cards.

Discover Card

Discover Cards are issued by Discover Financial Services. Founded in 1986, Discover credit cards today have more than 50 million card members, and Discover Card is one of the leading issuers of credit cards in the U.S.

Like American Express credit cards, Discover Card is not affiliated with the Visa or MasterCard network of credit cards, but rather has its own U.S. payments network.

Discover Card has made its mark as a leading innovator in the credit card industry, pioneering the first cash back programs. Discover Card is still among the leaders in cash back credit cards offering up to 5% cash back on certain purchases. Not surprisingly, Discover credit cards have earned a large following, ranking #1 in customer loyalty among leading credit card brands in 2007.