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The credit card industry can be a tough nut to crack due to the complicated web of companies operating within its ranks. After all, there are banks that issue credit cards and separate ‘networks’ that they run on. Where banks offer and distribute credit cards to their customers, credit card networks dictate where various credit cards can and cannot be used.

Network operators also provide the payment infrastructure that allows consumers to make electronic payments and merchants to accept them, and they usually charge a percentage fee. A few credit card issuers, including Discover and American Express, play a dual role — they issue credit cards and run their own credit card networks. Go figure.

For the purpose of this guide, we aim to explain the differences between the two most popular credit card networks in operation — Visa and Mastercard. The two networks between them, process around $15 billion in payments annually and account for the lions share of total global transactions.

If you’re trying to decide between a credit card supported by Visa and one supported by Mastercard we break down the differences for you. Both networks offer wide acceptance worldwide and a surprising number of benefits, but there are a few slight differences.

Which type of card is best for your wallet? We’ll let you decide.

How widely are they accepted?

Whereas acceptance of Discover and American Express can be hit or miss, especially for international purchases, Visa and Mastercard have one factor working in their favor; they are both accepted almost universally with very few exceptions.

The very few instances where Visa and Mastercard are not accepted by stores that accept credit for payment are store-specific. One popular example is Costco — the warehouse store — which only accepts Visa for now. Many retailers in the United States and abroad don’t accept American Express or Discover but will accept cards from other card networks, but this is much more rare with Visa or Mastercard.

What’s the technological advantage?

In terms of technology, both Visa and Mastercard tend to pave the way in their industry, mostly because they seem to share the goal of accelerating electronic payments worldwide. Visa notes on their website that nearly 2 billion people don’t have access to an electronic payment method, and that these individuals and their municipalities are missing out on important benefits like “reduced shadow economies, increased economic growth, and a boost to welfare among citizens.”

In addition to pushing for greater acceptance, both card networks continue striving to make their products more convenient. Both Visa and Mastercard have moved forward with technology that paves the way for contactless payment — a feature that lets you tap your card and pay instead of swiping or inserting your card.

Visa is also working on technology to help you pay with Visa without actually using your physical card. They hope to connect Visa with more internet-connected devices like smartphones, tablets, and even FitBit and Garmin devices in the future, helping consumers make their purchases as seamless as possible.

Mastercard is working on much of the same, focusing on contactless payments and improving purchasing ability for internet-connected devices. Mastercard’s Qkr app, which is part of Mastercard’s innovative Masterpass feature, lets you split the bill at restaurants, order food straight to your seat at movie theatres and sporting events, and pre-order your child’s lunch up to two weeks in advance.

Mastercard has also taken steps to help consumers avoid unnecessary and unwanted charges. In early 2019, for example, the credit card network announced a new rule that will require merchants to gain approval from consumers before starting up recurring billing after a free trial.

Visa and Mastercard benefits

When it comes to the benefits Visa and Mastercard offer, once again their perks are eerily similar. However, what you can expect from your card can also depend on the type of Visa or Mastercard you have. Both offer different card tiers with varying levels of perks ranging from basic to extraordinary.

When it comes to Visa credit cards, the three types you can apply for include traditional Visa cards, Visa Signature® cards, and Visa Infinite® cards. Here’s how they stack up in terms of the main benefits each type can offer:

Visa card Visa Signature® Visa Infinite®
Fraud protection Yes Yes Yes
Auto rental collision damage waiver Yes Yes Yes
Emergency card replacement Yes Yes Yes
Roadside dispatch Yes Yes Yes
Warranty services Yes Yes
Travel and emergency assistance services Yes Yes
Cardholder inquiry services Yes Yes
Emergency cash disbursement Yes Yes
Trip cancellation/interruption insurance Yes Yes
Lost luggage reimbursement Yes Yes
Travel accident insurance Yes Yes
Trip delay reimbursement Yes Yes
Baggage delay reimbursement Yes Yes
Price protection Yes Yes
Return protection Yes Yes
Global Entry statement credit Yes
Visa Infinite car rental privileges Yes
Airport lounge access Yes

When it comes to Visa credit cards, the three types you can apply for include traditional Visa cards, Visa Signature® cards, and Visa Infinite® cards. Here’s how they stack up in terms of the main benefits each type can offer:

Standard Mastercard® World Mastercard® World Elite Mastercard®
Lost or stolen card reporting Yes Yes Yes
Emergency card replacement Yes Yes Yes
Emergency cash disbursement with Mastercard Global Service ™ Yes Yes Yes
Price protection Yes Yes Yes
Zero liability for fraudulent purchases Yes Yes Yes
Extended warranties Yes Yes
Identity fraud expense reimbursement Yes Yes
Auto rental coverage Yes Yes
Travel accident insurance Yes Yes
Baggage delay insurance Yes Yes
Trip cancellation/interruption insurance Yes Yes
Travel assistance Yes Yes
Concierge services Yes Yes
Price protection Yes Yes
Identity theft resolution services Yes Yes
ShopRunner membership Yes Yes
Fuel Rewards Network Yes Yes
World Elite discount programs Yes

When it comes to Visa credit cards, the three types you can apply for include traditional Visa cards, Visa Signature® cards, and Visa Infinite® cards. Here’s how they stack up in terms of the main benefits each type can offer:
As you look over these benefits, please note that not all cards within each tier offer every perk mentioned. You’ll want to check over your credit card’s benefits, terms, and conditions to see which perks are offered and under what terms.

At a glance — our favorite Visa and Mastercard products

Visa Mastercard
Best for travel Chase Sapphire Reserve® Citi Premier℠ Card
Best for small business Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card Bank of America® Business Advantage Travel Rewards World Mastercard® credit card
Best cash-back card Chase Freedom® Citi® Double Cash Card
Best balance transfer offer Chase Slate® Citi Simplicity® Card

Visa vs. Mastercard — the final word

What’s the difference between Visa and Mastercard? At the end of the day, not a lot. The big differences you’ll find are in individual credit cards and their offerings, not the card networks that provide support and work behind the scenes.

If you’re eager to get a card with superior benefits, your best bet is comparing individual cards in terms of their ongoing perks, consumer protections, and rewards programs. The choice between Visa or Mastercard almost doesn’t matter, but some individual credit cards are more lucrative than others.

Compare credit cards from these major networks right here at Bankrate.


Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.