2019 List of “Major” Credit Card Companies and How to Get Their Cards

Sean Messier

Sean Messier | Blog

Jul 15, 2019 | Updated Aug 08, 2019

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If you’ve ever spent a moment browsing the web in search of your next credit card, then you’ve likely come across the term “major credit card companies” at least once or twice.

But while you may get the gist of the phrase, it may not be clear exactly which companies it covers.

The fact of the matter is that there’s no cut-and-dried definition of “major credit card companies,” but in the U.S., you can usually assume that it refers to the nation’s foremost credit card issuers and/or its four primary credit card networks.

Debit cards nearly always display the logo of a major credit card network, but it’s important to note that debit cards don’t affect your credit whatsoever — even if you choose “credit” at checkout.

We’ll talk more about the industry’s biggest companies and explain the difference between networks and issuers below.

Major U.S. Credit Card Companies

First, let’s discuss which companies you’re likely to see the most while exploring the world of credit. We’ll walk through what these companies actually do later on.

There are four main networks in the U.S.:

The list of the country’s biggest issuers is a bit more diverse, but it’s safe to say that most high-profile credit cards are issued by a handful of big-league companies.

In terms of purchase volume, American Express topped this list in 2018, with a whopping $754.92 billion. Amex ended 2018 with 114 million cards in force.

Chase had a close second-place finish in the purchase volume category, with $739.49 billion.

Find a list of America’s most prominent credit card issuers, along with purchase volume data provided by The Nilson Report, below:

Issuer U.S. Purchase Volume (Bil.) (2017) U.S. Market Share (2017)
American Express $686.9 20%
Bank of America $332.9 10%
Barclays N/A N/A
Capital One $288.7 9%
Chase $669.9 20%
Citi $384.6 11%
Discover $128.8 4%
Synchrony N/A N/A
USAA N/A N/A
U.S. Bank $136.1 N/A
Wells Fargo $125.8 4%

Just remember that this list isn’t exhaustive, and there are far too many issuers spread across the U.S. to list in a single chart.

How to Get a Major Credit Card

Looking to get your hands on a credit card from one of the nation’s premier issuers? Regardless of your credit scores, you can likely make it happen if you play your cards right. But the steps that you’ll have to take to get a credit card will vary based on your financial situation, your goals, and whether you’ll be using the card for personal or business purposes.

We’ll dig into the process shortly.

Before you submit any applications, however, take a moment to check for pre-approved offers. Sometimes, if you satisfy certain criteria, you might be able to secure better terms, like higher signup bonuses or extended intro APR offers.

You can request information about any offers available to you by submitting a form on each issuer’s website. If you qualify, you’ll still have to apply and submit to a hard inquiry like you normally would, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be approved.

Now, let’s talk about how you can get a credit card from one of the aforementioned companies based on your credit situation.

Not sure where you’re at credit-wise? Find out how to check your free credit scores from FICO and other major scoring brands. You may also want to check your reports with the major credit bureaus while you’re at it.

If You’ve Established Fair (At Least) Credit…

If you’ve established fair or even average credit, you’ll have a decent chance of getting approved for quite a few credit cards.

Already working with good credit scores? You’ll likely qualify for a rich assortment of cards from most major issuers.

There are credit cards that cater specifically to applicants with excellent credit, of course, but good credit and a strong income should be enough to get you nearly any desirable card on the market.

What constitutes “good” or “excellent” credit scores varies depending on the score used, but the spectrum is similar across most scoring brands. Your credit scores can affect all sorts of things, including your credit limit and the network tier — think Mastercard vs. World Mastercard, Visa vs. Visa Signature — at which your card is issued.

While you’re shopping around, spend the time necessary to find a credit card that complements your spending habits and provides enough value to justify any fees you might have to pay.

Popular types of credit cards available to individuals with good credit range from premium travel cards (The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review) is a great pick) to straightforward balance transfer credit cards (try the BankAmericard® Credit Card, there’s no balance transfer fee for the first 60 days).

Plus, you’ll find cards that earn bonus points and cash back with all sorts of merchants, including gas stations, grocery stores, office supply stores, department stores, and more. This should make it simple to find something that suits your lifestyle.

Finally, keep an eye out for essential features, like no foreign transaction fees and valuable signup bonuses.

When you think you’ve found the perfect credit card, fill out and submit the application. The issuer will conduct a hard credit inquiry to evaluate your credit scores and credit reports in order to determine whether you’re a worthy borrower. This inquiry may impact your credit scores slightly, but the effect should be relatively inconsequential.

You’ll often be approved or denied instantly, though it might take longer.

Major Credit Cards for Good Credit

For general spending, the Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer (Review) has one of the better credit card offers out there. You get 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you swipe your card, 1% when you pay it off. As icing on the cake, there’s an introductory APR of 0% for 18 months on balance transfers (before its regular APR of 15.99% – 25.99% (Variable) kicks in).

And that’s all for no annual fee.

The Double Cash card’s flat reward rate deftly complements cards that earn higher rates in specific categories, like the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card (Review), or rotating categories, like the Chase Freedom® (Review).

 

Unlike the Double Cash, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express (Review) has a $95 annual fee, but it’s one of the best cash back credit cards on the market. You get a whopping 6% back on U.S. supermarket purchases (up to $6,000 spent annually, then 1%) and select U.S. streaming services, plus 3% back on U.S. gas station purchases and transit. Then, there’s 1% back on everything else.

For an introductory bonus, you can get a $250 statement credit for spending $1,000 within the first three months of account opening. That’s a pretty impressive return on spend for a threshold that’s so easy to reach.

 

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review) is a renowned travel credit card with a straightforward earning system and point transfer opportunities that have the potential to increase the value of your travel rewards. Cardholders enjoy 2X points per dollar on travel purchases and dining, plus a host of relatively basic travel benefits that are sure to prove useful for the avid adventurer.

The Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee.

If Your Credit Is Poor or Nonexistent…

If you’re totally new to the world of credit, or if you have bad credit scores, then your credit card options will be limited. Fortunately, many of the major credit card companies offer cards specifically designed for building credit.

Your best option will usually be a secured card.

To get a secured credit card, you apply as usual, but you also have to provide a refundable security deposit that serves as collateral and (usually) sets your credit limit.

Use your secured credit card responsibly, and over time, you may improve your credit enough that you’re eligible for an unsecured card, which will generally provide a higher credit line. In certain cases, you may even be provided with an upgraded card (and a refund of your deposit) automatically.

Just be careful once you’re offered a new credit card with a higher credit limit, as irresponsible spending can pave the way for a downward spiral into crippling credit card debt.

There are some unsecured cards, like the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review), where you may be approved even with limited or no credit history, but these cards are less common.

Major Credit Cards for Building or Improving Credit

While many competing cards simply provide a convenient way to build credit, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card (Review) also provides both cash back rewards and an introductory bonus. You earn 2% back on gas and dining up to $1,000 spent (then 1%), and 1% on everything else.

The signup bonus is a bit different than usual — it’s called Cashback Match, and it doubles all cash back earned in the first year.

 

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® (Review) is a fairly basic secured credit card. Its distinguishing characteristic is that, depending on your credit scores, your credit limit might be bigger than your deposit. The card’s minimum initial deposit is always from $49—$200, but that deposit will always give you a $200 limit.

If you’d like to increase your limit, you’re free to provide a larger deposit, up to $1,000.

 

Despite its name, the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review) is available to anyone. It’s an unsecured credit card that’s designed for individuals with limited credit or no credit, and that’s pretty rare. You get 1% back on every purchase, but if you pay the card on time during each billing cycle — as you always should, to avoid late fees and damage to your credit scores — that rises to 1.25%.

You’ll also get a higher credit limit if you make your first five monthly payments by the due date, which is a unique perk for a card at this level.

If You’re Using Your Card for Business…

Whether you’re a veteran business owner or an up-and-coming freelancer, you might benefit from a business credit card. These cards are available from several major issuers, and they usually provide rewards for business-focused bonus categories, as well as helpful business-related benefits.

And that’s on top of the fact that business credit card issuers generally report positive activity to the business credit bureaus, which can help you establish and build your business credit scores.

The application process for these cards isn’t terribly different from most consumer cards. You’ll have to fill out a standard form that includes some personal identifying information, plus information about your business, usually including your Employment Identification Number (EIN).

And while business credit and personal credit are separate, you’ll almost certainly still have to provide a personal guarantee and submit to a personal credit inquiry before you’re approved for a business credit card.

Major Small Business Credit Cards

A simple rewards program makes The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (Review) a solid pick if you’re dead set on a business credit card with no annual fee. You get 2X rewards points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent every year, and then 1X on everything else after that.

Many business cards offer higher reward rates in specific categories, but because there’s no annual fee, you’ll likely have no trouble integrating this card into your overall strategy for whenever those cards don’t offer any value.

 

The Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business (Review) provides 2% cash back on all credit card purchases with no spending limit. It does, however, require a $95 annual fee. Even so, its flat reward rate gives it a lot of potential value if your business spends big money in a variety of categories. Otherwise, you may be better off using a card with no annual fee, like the aforementioned Blue Business Plus card or the Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business (Review).

 

In stark contrast to the other two business rewards cards we mentioned here, the American Express® Business Gold Card (Review) features a rewards program that’s somewhat complex, though quite valuable.

Its premier selling point is that you can earn 4X points per dollar in the two categories where you spend the most each month, from a list of six options:

  • Airfare purchased directly from airlines
  • U.S. purchases for advertising in select media
  • U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers
  • U.S. shipping purchases
  • U.S. gas station purchases
  • U.S. restaurant purchases

This 4X rate is available for the first $150,000 in combined purchases every year.

You can learn more about the card’s rewards and benefits in our comprehensive American Express Business Gold review.

Major Credit Card Companies Explained: Networks vs. Issuers

So, we’ve covered the industry’s biggest companies, as well as how you can get their cards. But what exactly do credit card networks and issuers do, and what’s the difference between them?

It’s pretty simple.

Major Credit Card Networks

Credit card networks are companies that process credit card transactions. Each network sets its own processing fees, which merchants must pay for each transaction processed on that network.

Again, there are four main U.S. credit card networks: Amex, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa.

Though all four of these networks are quite large, Visa and Mastercard are among the largest payment card providers in the world, with 3.15 billion and 1.82 billion cards in circulation in 2017 respectively. Visa is topped in size only by China’s colossal UnionPay.

As of March 2018, Visa has grown even larger, with 3.3 billion cards worldwide.

If you’re planning to buy something with a credit card, you have to make sure the merchant accepts credit cards that use the network in question. Visa and Mastercard are accepted by the vast majority of card-accepting merchants around the world, but American Express and Discover are a bit less widespread.

Interestingly enough, industry heavyweights American Express and Discover are unique in that each acts as a credit card network and an issuer.

To see what network your credit card uses, just check the bottom-right corner. You’ll usually see the network logo there, or sometimes on the back of the card (if there is no network logo, you’re probably looking at a store credit card that can only be used at specific merchants.).

The Chase Sapphire Preferred, with the Visa network logo in the bottom-right corner.

Interestingly, major credit card networks provide certain benefits to cardholders, often including extended warranty coverage and various types of insurance (such as rental car insurance, cell phone protection, and the like) in addition to those perks provided by the issuer. But the issuer still decides which network benefits wind up on the card.

Major Credit Card Issuers

Credit card issuers, on the other hand, are the companies and organizations (often banks) that actually offer credit cards and provide their financial backing. The key features associated with most credit cards, including their rewards, fees, and interest rates, are determined by issuers.

It’s also on credit card issuers to approve or deny applications for their credit cards by evaluating applicant creditworthiness. This is usually accomplished through a hard credit inquiry.

Aside from Discover and Amex, which run their own networks, issuers usually must partner with a credit card network that will process the card’s transactions wherever it’s used.

There’s a vast list of banks and credit unions that issue credit cards in the United States, but most well-known credit cards are issued by the companies in the table above.

The credit cards we’ve recommended here offer only a taste of all the options at your disposal. If you’d like to add a new card to your wallet, explore our picks for the best credit cards in every category, from travel rewards to cash back and beyond.
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