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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.
First, let’s briefly touch on the largest credit card networks, based on their U.S. purchase volume in 2019.
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:
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.)
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.
In addition to its premium cards — like The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers killer airport lounge access and rideshare credits — Amex is known for grocery and gas cards. Its Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for instance, earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 annually, then 1%) and 3% at U.S. gas stations.See Amex's full card selection here Best American Express Credit Cards
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).
The Chase Freedom Flex℠, for example, earns 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories — and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 2X points/dollar on travel purchases and comes with primary rental car insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve®, its super premium card, also features lounge access, an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and free membership in Lyft Pink. Chase’s Ink business credit cards are also a solid choice for small business owners.See Chase's full card selection here Chase 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.
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.
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.
The Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, offers 2%–3% cash back in several major bonus categories, such as groceries, gas, and dining. And the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card is fine for a travel card with no annual fee.
Capital One is a great issuer for international travelers, as its cards have no foreign transaction fees (a 2%–3% markup on international purchases that many other issuers charge). For serious travelers, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card competes with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
Though we list the purchase APR for every card here, the best approach is to pay your statement in full every billing cycle (unless you have a 0% rate). That way, you’ll never owe any interest!
Swooping in at No. 6 on this credit cards list is U.S. Bank, a stalwart that may be better known for its checking and savings accounts than its credit cards.
Still, it has a card for every need: the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has a long 0% APR, the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card lets you choose two 5% cash back bonus categories (though the biggest players, like grocery stores and gas stations, are excluded).
U.S. Bank also provides a range of co-branded grocery cards at chains like Kroger and Ralph’s, though you’ll often be better off with one of Amex’s general grocery options.See U.S. Bank's full card selection here U.S. Bank Credit Cards
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.
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).
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 here Wells Fargo Credit Cards
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.)
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.
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.
The J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study has ranked Credit One Bank (not to be confused with Capital One) as the issuer with which customers are least satisfied. This is somewhat unsurprising; the issuer’s high fees, opaque terms, and less-than-stellar customer service are a common point of discussion.
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.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, please click here.
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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