Two popular types of credit cards — Visa and Discover — get a lot of attention due to their popularity and perks, yet they don’t quite work the same. With Discover, you should note that this company is a credit card issuer and a credit card network. Visa, on the other hand, is only a credit card network, which is why you see Visa credit cards issued by major banks like Chase or Capital One. Other major credit card networks include American Express and Mastercard, which are names you’ve probably heard of.
Where a credit card issuer comes up with credit card offers — including their rewards and perks — credit card networks actually process payments and set rules for how their cards can be used. The fact that Discover is both a card network and a card issuer doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse; it’s just one important detail to be aware of as you compare credit cards and learn more about the top offers.
When shopping for a new credit card, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with all the details, credit card options and even the networks they run on. This guide was created to help you recognize the differences between Discover and Visa and why you should consider either one.
Visa vs. Discover: Credit card acceptance
Global acceptance is one area where Visa comes out ahead against Discover. Visa features nearly global acceptance, with usage in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. That could be the reason there are currently more than 3.3 billion Visa cards in use, according to the card network.
Discover boasts that their cards are accepted by 99 percent of places that take credit cards, which sounds good in theory. Unfortunately, the Discover coverage map shows huge gaps in global acceptance in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The reality is, there are many more destinations worldwide where you just can’t use a Discover card, whereas you’ll almost always be able to use a Visa in places credit cards are accepted.
Visa vs. Discover: Foreign transaction fees
Note that, when it comes to international acceptance, Discover does have on edge in the fact their credit cards never charge foreign transaction fees. If you are traveling abroad to a country where Discover acceptance is prevalent, this could save you from having to pay an additional foreign transaction fee (usually 3%) on your purchases.
When it comes to Visa credit cards, some do charge foreign transaction fees while others do not.
Visa vs. Discover: Cardholder benefits
When it comes to credit card perks, Visa definitely comes out ahead. Note that the selection of perks you’ll receive as a cardholder can depend on the type of Visa card you have — a traditional Visa credit card, a Visa Signature card or a Visa Infinite card. However, even the bottom tier traditional Visa cards come with benefits like roadside dispatch, auto rental collision damage waiver, emergency card replacement and zero liability.
With Visa Signature, on the other hand, you can receive perks such as extended warranties and travel and emergency assistance services. With Visa Infinite, you can get elite benefits such as trip cancellation and interruption insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, return protection and more.
Discover credit cards tend to be light on benefits other than a free FICO score on your credit card statement. Some Discover cards also let you pay your bill late once without a late payment fee.
Visa vs. Discover: Annual fees
Discover credit cards do not charge an annual fee, which can be intriguing if you want to earn rewards without paying for the privilege.
Visa credit cards may or may not charge an annual fee depending on the specific card offer. You’ll find plenty of Visa credit cards that offer rewards without any fees, but you’ll also find top tier credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® with its $550 annual fee.
Visa vs. Discover: Sign-up bonuses and ongoing rewards
Among Visa credit cards, there are a variety of rewards credit cards to choose from. You can opt for a cash-back credit card like the Discover it® Cash Back, or you can choose to earn rewards for travel with the Discover it® Miles. Those are just two options, but there are plenty of other Discover credit cards on the market
Interestingly, Discover credit cards do not offer traditional sign-up bonuses. Instead, their current offer promises to match all the cash back and miles you earn after the first year.
Many Visa credit cards let you earn rewards, although the offers can vary dramatically. Some let you earn a flat rate of cash-back, whereas others let you earn points for travel or rewards in a flexible program like Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Many Visa credit cards also come with generous sign-up bonuses you can earn if you meet a spending threshold within the first few months of account opening.
Visa vs. Discover: Odds of approval
Both Visa and Discover consider their approval process to be proprietary, so there are no hard and fast rules to help you determine whether you can get one of their cards. With that being said, both Visa and Discover have cards for consumers with poor credit all the way up to excellent credit. For example, the Discover it® Secured is geared to consumers who need to build credit from scratch or repair credit mistakes from the past. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bank Secured Visa® card is a Visa option that can help you do the same.
The top rewards credit cards from both Visa and Discover are typically available to consumers with very good or excellent credit.
Why should you choose Visa?
Visa credit cards tend to be a good option if you’re someone who has good or excellent credit and you want to earn rewards. Visa credit cards can help you earn cash back on all your spending as well as travel rewards or flexible points you can spend in more than one way.
If you’re hoping for elite credit card benefits like airport lounge access, annual travel credits or credits for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, then this is another area where Visa pulls out ahead since Discover cards do not offer these benefits.
You may also want to consider Visa if you travel internationally often and want a credit card with the broadest level of global acceptance possible. Just make sure you pick a Visa credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Why should you choose Discover?
There are plenty of reasons to choose Discover over Visa, including the fact that their cards come with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. While Discover rewards cards don’t come with a traditional sign-up bonus, Discover will double all the rewards you earn after the first year through their Cashback Match program.
Discover credit cards also come with credit-building and protection tools like a free FICO score on your monthly statement, free Social Security number alerts and free overnight card shipping. Discover cards also let you make one late payment without a penalty, and they won’t even raise your APR after your first late payment.
Discover vs. Visa: Which is better?
At the end of the day, only you can decide which credit card is best for your wallet. We suggest comparing individual cards in terms of their fees, rewards and cardholder perks in order to wind up with the ideal card for your needs and whatever you hope to accomplish.
If you want to consolidate debt, check out some of the 0% APR credit cards on the market today. Want to earn rewards? Compare top rewards credit cards and their programs, as well as their earning rates.
If you need to build credit for the first time, you can also check out the top starter credit cards on the market today.
It doesn’t matter so much whether you wind up with a Visa credit card or a Discover card. The key consideration is which card gets you where you want to be.