In the United States, a major credit card is usually considered to be any credit card that has the logo for:
- American Express
This includes most credit cards and charge cards. Some of the only exceptions are store credit cards that do not have any of these logos. Debit cards do not always count, even if they have these logos.
These four brands are credit card networks, and a merchant chooses to accept certain cards or not based on the network they are a part of.
How to Get a Major Credit Card
There are hundreds of credit cards on the market today. The best credit cards for you depend on your situation and what you want out of a card. If you’re new to credit cards, start with our guide to building credit.
Your credit scores and credit history are one major factor you can use to determine which cards you may be able to get. If you have bad credit you won’t have nearly as many options as someone with great credit scores, and may need to go with a secured credit card. A secured card requires a deposit to establish a credit limit. If you’re not sure what cards you might be able to get approved for, you could try checking for pre-qualified card offers on an issuer’s website.
If you have excellent credit history established, with a long history of on-time payments on your credit reports, there are many options available to you. Consider a rewards card with a rewards program that fits your lifestyle and the types of credit card purchases you’ll make most often. You’ll likely qualify for the best cash back and travel credit cards, as well as the best offers for balance transfers with no balance transfer fee and 0% intro APR offers. With better credit, you’ll also generally get a lower APR and higher credit line than someone with worse credit. Are you willing to pay an annual fee or not? That’s another factor you can consider while you’re evaluating the options. If you’ll be traveling out of the country, look for a card that has no foreign transaction fees.
If you have a small business, you may be able to find a rewards credit card designed for business owners that will earn cash rewards for purchases your business is already making.
Networks vs. Issuers
A credit card network is a company that processes credit card transactions. Examples of networks are Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover.
A credit card issuer is a bank or credit union that provides the financial backing for a credit card. These are the companies that are typically referred to as “credit card companies.” Since a credit card is a type of loan, the issuer is the company that decides whether to approve your credit card application. Then, as you use the card, the issuer pays for purchases on your behalf and bills you for them. It’s the issuer that charges interest fees or late fees, provides customer service, and decides the terms of the account, like the credit limit and APR, depending on the credit history of the cardholder. Some examples of credit card issuers are Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One, Chase, and Citi. American Express and Discover are also credit card issuers, but they’re a little different.
American Express and Discover are examples of companies that act as both a credit card issuer and a network. These two companies are banks that offer cards as credit card issuers, but also run their own credit card networks for processing transactions. If you have a card issued by American Express or Discover, it will be on that company’s network. However, it is possible to have a card that uses the American Express network and has the American Express logo on it, for example, but is issued by a different bank, like USAA.
Visa and Mastercard are only credit card networks. They do not issue cards directly to consumers. Instead, you may apply for a Visa or Mastercard through an issuer, like Bank of America or Capital One, for example.
Some credit card benefits, like fraud protection or extended warranties, are provided by the network, while others, like free credit scores, may be provided by the issuer. Read the Guide to Benefits that comes with your card to find out exactly what benefits your credit card has.
Learn more about the differences between credit card networks and issuers here.
Debit Cards Don’t Always Count
Just because a debit card has a Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover logo does not mean it counts as a major credit card.
You may be able to choose “credit” at checkout, but that only determines how the transaction is processed. You may not be able to use a debit card in certain situations where a credit card is required, like for renting a car or checking into a hotel.
Credit cards are very different from debit cards in several important ways.
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