Updated Nov 03, 2020 | Published Mar 02, 2020 • 6 min read
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The largest credit card companies are a who’s who of the finance world. You’ll see a lot of familiar names on the list: credit card networks such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, and credit card issuers such as Chase and Citi.
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With so many credit card companies out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. What’s the difference between them? Is one better than the other?
In this article, we offer an overview of the largest credit card companies, according to domestic purchase volume in 2018.
As for whether they’re the best credit card companies, too? That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
The top two — Visa and Mastercard — are solely networks, which means they facilitate transactions but do not issue their own cards. American Express and Discover, on the other hand, serve as both networks and issuers.
If you want a Visa or Mastercard, you’ll need to apply with one of the banks that issues its cards, like Chase or Citi. The issuing bank will also determine most of the important features of your card, such as its annual fee, perks, and interest rate. So let’s take a quick run through the country’s largest issuers based on purchase volume in 2018:
Read moreCredit Card Issuers vs. Networks — What’s the Difference?
The bottom line? While it’s interesting to see which payment networks reign supreme, it’s not particularly useful. That’s why we’ve focused on issuers (or those who are both issuers and networks) for this list of major credit card companies. (Since the most recent data was from 2018 for most issuers, the following volumes for American Express and Discover differ slightly from those above.)
Largest credit card companies by purchase volume. Image credit: Nilson Report
1. American Express: $754.92 billion
As noted above, American Express is both an issuer and a network. It’s the largest credit card issuer by purchase volume, likely because most of its cards are targeted at high spenders with good or excellent credit.
It’s also one of the best credit card issuers for customer satisfaction, according to studies from J.D. Power.
Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on your new Card at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership. That’s an additional 9 points on top of the 1 point you earn for these purchases.
Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member and Additional Centurion Cards only.
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
Enjoy complimentary access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
Receive complimentary benefits through American Express Travel with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts® program at over 1,100 properties . Learn More.
Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. That’s up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
$550 annual fee.
American Express is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.
See Amex's full card selection hereBest American Express Credit Cards
2. Chase: $739.48 billion
Chase, the second largest issuer by volume, is the largest issuer of cards on the Visa and Mastercard networks.
Many of its cards are part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which allows you to earn points redeemable for flights, hotel stays, statement credits, or gift cards.
As with American Express, you’ll mostly need good or excellent credit to snag these cards, many of which come with serious perks and introductory bonuses (that grant a boatload of bonus points for spending a certain amount within the first three months of your account opening).
See Chase's full card selection hereChase Credit Cards
Wondering which cards you might be eligible for? It depends on your creditworthiness (your credit history and credit scores, along with other factors like income). Here’s how to get your free credit scores from FICO — the better they are, the broader your options will be. Don’t worry if they’re not great, however: There are plenty of cards for rebuilding your credit, with several solid options from Capital One and Discover.
3. Citibank: $410.43 billion
Coming in a distant third, but still with more than $400 billion of annual purchases, is Citibank. Most notably, this bank issues one of our favorite cash back credit cards: the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, which earns a flat 2% cash back on everything (must pay at least the minimum due on time).
It also has some interesting co-branded cards, including the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi, which earns 2% cash back at Costco and 4% back at U.S. gas stations (the latter up to $7K spent annually), as well as several partner cards with American Airlines.
Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
Earn a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your cardmembership year and renew your card
No Foreign Transaction Fees
First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation
Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.99% – 24.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi’s discretion.
Citi is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.
See Citibank's full card selection hereCiti Credit Cards
4. Bank of America: $360.73 billion
As one of the largest credit card issuers, it’s no surprise that Bank of America offers a range of cards for people with credit scores from poor to excellent. While you won’t find any premium credit cards here — like you would with Chase or Amex — you’ll find plenty of decent cards with low or no annual fees.
$200 cash rewards bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
NEW OFFER: Maximize your cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement /furnishings
Now earn 3% cash back in your choice category and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases), and unlimited 1% on all other purchases
You can update your choice category for future purchases once each calendar month using the Mobile Banking app or Online Banking, or do nothing and it stays the same
No expiration on rewards
0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the intro APR offer ends, 13.99%–23.99% Variable APR will apply. A 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers
If you’re a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25% – 75% more cash back on every purchase
0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 20 billing cycles. After that, a variable APR currently 14.49% – 24.49%.
Great offer from U.S. Bank, a 2020 World’s Most Ethical Company® – Ethisphere Institute, February 2021.
No Annual Fee*
Flexibility to choose a payment due date that fits your schedule.
Get up to $600 protection on your cell phone (subject to $25 deductible) against covered damage or theft when you pay your monthly cellular telephone bill with your U.S.Bank Visa® Platinum Credit Card. Certain terms, conditions, and exclusions apply.
5X points on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked directly in the Altitude Rewards Center
3X points per dollar for travel, mobile wallet purchases, and restaurants (until 7/1/21)
50,000 bonus points for spending $4,500 in the first 90 days of membership, equivalent to $750 in travel redemptions.
$325 annual travel credit.
Application fee credit for either Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre✓ ($85), once every four years.
Enhanced status at Relais & Châteaux hotels and resorts.
12-month membership to Priority Pass Select for airport lounge access.
12 complimentary Gogo Inflight WiFi passes per year.
No foreign transaction fees.
$400 annual fee, $75 for additional authorized users.
See U.S. Bank's full card selection hereU.S. Bank Credit Cards
7. Discover: $139.03 billion
Like Amex, Discover is both an issuer and a network. According to J.D. Power, it’s also the best credit card issuer in terms of customer satisfaction.
While it has a reputation of being welcomed in far fewer places than Visa, Mastercard, or Amex, Discover claims it’s accepted at more than 95% of credit-card-friendly merchants in the U.S. You’ll likely be fine at most national chains, in other words, but may face more difficulties at local mom-and-pop shops.
Although Discover generally doesn’t offer a ton of perks or rewards, its cards are still worth a look. Since they can be easier to get, they’re a good way to get started with credit cards — especially for students and people who are rebuilding.
Discover it® Secured
Min. credit levelBad
Regular APRSee Terms
Discover it® Cash Back
Min. credit levelGood
Regular APRSee Terms
Discover it® Student chrome
Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
Regular APRSee Terms
See Discover's full card selection hereDiscover Credit Cards
With a secured card, you’ll need to put down a security deposit that, in most cases, then serves as your credit limit. Secured cards are different from debit cards in that they offer $0 fraud liability — and help you build your credit. Before applying for a secured credit card, just make sure its issuer will report your behavior to all three major credit bureaus (most do, including all the big issuers).
8. Wells Fargo: $134.06 billion
Rounding out this list of the top credit card companies is Wells Fargo.
We should note, however, that among top credit card issuers, Wells Fargo ranks near last in terms of customer satisfaction. It’s no wonder, given it has experienced a series of scandals in recent years.
As far as cards go, Wells Fargo’s offerings are fairly run-of-the-mill. We’d say the most noteworthy card is the Wells Fargo Platinum card, which offers a 0% APR for 18 months.
See Wells Fargo's full card selection hereWells Fargo Credit Cards
What Are the Best Credit Card Companies?
Although it’s easy to declare which credit card company is largest, it’s far too subjective for us to say which credit card companies are best.
Among the major credit card issuers, we will note that cardholders are most satisfied with American Express, Discover, Bank of America, and Chase — in that order. The rest of the companies on this list received below-average satisfaction ratings. (USAA gets the best ratings, but it’s only for members of the military and their families.)
Best credit card issuers. Image credit: J.D. Power
Ultimately, though, the best credit card company will depend on your needs. If you’re looking for a flashy travel rewards card, Amex or Chase are good bets. If you’re rebuilding your credit, you’ll find fantastic options from Capital One and Discover, or even from your local credit union (or an online union).
What we recommend is choosing the card that works best for you in terms of perks and rewards, annual fee, and credit requirements. As long as it’s from a major issuer, the specific company shouldn’t matter too much.
What Are the Worst Credit Card Companies?
Just as we can’t authoritatively declare which credit card companies are the best, there are no clear-cut criteria for determining the worst issuers. We can, however, cite data concerning which issuers customers are least happy with.
U.S. Bank and Barclays took the second- and third-lowest spots, respectively, while Wells Fargo and Synchrony Bank tied for fourth. Beginning with Barclays, however, the issuers’ satisfaction scores aren’t much below the segment average, so you won’t necessarily get that much worse an experience than you would with higher-ranked issuers.
And, really, that goes for all of the issuers listed. The study is a nice point of reference, but your experience with a given credit card company may vary. Just do your research to find a credit card that fits your needs, and make sure you know what you’re getting into when you apply.
Susan is a freelance writer who specializes in turning complex financial topics into engaging and accessible articles. She's been writing about personal finance for six years, and was previously the senior writer at The Penny Hoarder and a staff writer at Student Loan Hero. Her personal finance writing has also appeared in publications like MarketWatch and Lifehacker.
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