Almost every new credit card applicant shops around for a new credit card, but few shop around for a new network. While issuers’ names may be better known, the most important part of any card might just be the network – Visa, American Express, Discover, or MasterCard.
Making the decision on a network is more important than you think. Here are a few key things to know about each network:
Visa and MasterCard – Both have large, international credit card processing networks and are accepted anywhere that takes credit cards. Merchants most likely to carry both networks, and process debit and credit card payments for both Visa and MasterCard branded cards.
Discover – Primarily an American credit card network, Discover has recently caught on with established businesses that previously accepted only other networks. Beware: using your Discover-branded credit card outside the United States will be quite the headache. Discover has excellent credit cards with incredible rewards, but prepare with a backup if you ever head overseas.
American Express – American Express is probably the best known of all credit card networks. Known for serving wealthy “high-rollers,” American Express has a very broad network geographically speaking, but is one of the few networks most commonly rejected. Businesses report that slightly higher merchant processing fees keep them from accepting American Express cards.
Knowing the difference between each network may save you a headache. Be sure to choose wisely, and make a conscious effort to have cards from at least two issuers in the event a certain payment network isn’t accepted at your favorite places to shop.