Visa Credit Cards

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness

Updated Nov 08, 2018

“Hello, do you accept Visa?”

Do you even need to ask? With rare exceptions, the answer is almost always “yes.”

You can jump down to find the right Visa credit card for you now, if you’re in the market for a new card. But just what is Visa, and how did it become one of the archetypal brands in payment processing worldwide?

Image credit: Wikipedia

What is Visa?

Visa is a multinational financial services corporation, with headquarters in Foster City, California, which is near San Francisco. It provides a payment network for credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards, and gift cards, facilitating electronic funds transfers practically everywhere around the world.

Visa is not an issuer of credit or debit cards. It does not set interest rates, loan money, or provide the funds for credit lines. It doesn’t determine annual fees or reward rates.

Instead, it’s a network that connects consumers, merchants, banks, and other financial institutions. It helps money get wherever it needs to go. The other major U.S. networks are Mastercard, American Express, and Discover.

Issuers are typically banks, like Capital One and Citi. Learn more about the differences between card issuers and networks here.

Almost every merchant that accepts credit cards will accept Visa cards. For the most part you can be confident that your Visa will work no matter what part of the world you may be in, with only some rare exceptions (like Kroger).

Although it doesn’t issue cards, Visa does provide certain services and perks for cardholders. These often include benefits like Purchase Protection and Auto Rental Collision Damage Waivers for certain car rentals. High-end cards may come with more interesting perks, like a personal concierge, airport lounge access, and a Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application fee credit. These benefits are usually serviced by third parties, rather than directly by Visa.

Personal Visa cards come at several different tiers:

  • Visa Classic
  • Visa Platinum
  • Visa Signature
  • Visa Infinite

And the same is true for business cards:

  • Visa Business
  • Visa Business Signature

The higher the tier, the better the benefits. But just because a card is a certain tier, that doesn’t mean you’ll get all the benefits associated with that tier. A Visa Signature card, for example, may come with only some of the possible Visa Signature benefits. And in some cases your card tier will depend on the credit limit you get when approved: Visa Signature cards often require a $5,000 credit line, so if your credit isn’t good enough for that you may be given a Visa Platinum, or you could be declined.

The exact benefits for any specific card depend on the card issuer, so you’ll need to check your card details to see what your Visa card includes.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve (Review), for example, is one of the few cards that’s issued at the Visa Infinite level, coming with some top-tier benefits. If you can’t qualify for that you’ll need to lower your ambitions a bit to Visa Signature, which you’ll find on lower-level cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (Review).

We're currently unable to link directly to an application for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but you can learn more here, on our advertising partner's website.

Credit Card Issuers that Provide Visa Credit Cards

Ready to get your very own Visa credit card? Scratch a card issuer and you’re likely to find a Visa, so there’s no need to worry about availability.

Almost every major card issuer provides Visa cards — the two notable exceptions are American Express and Discover, which issue their own cards and provide their own payment networks.

Other than those two, you’ll probably find Visa credit cards offered by just about every issuer you check. In some cases you may find a card that’s available as either a Visa or a Mastercard, but this is rare.

These issuer-network relationships aren’t set in stone. Credit card companies may decide to start issuing cards that run on different networks, or switch an existing card product from Visa to Mastercard, for example.
Issuer Card Networks Used
American Express Only American Express
Bank of America Visa, Mastercard
Barclays Visa, Mastercard
Capital One Visa, Mastercard
Chase Visa, Mastercard (mostly Visa)
Citi Visa, Mastercard (mostly Mastercard)
Comenity Visa, Mastercard
Credit Unions Visa, Mastercard, American Express
Discover Only Discover
HSBC Only Mastercard
Retail Store Credit Cards Visa, Mastercard, American Express
Synchrony Visa, Mastercard
U.S. Bank Visa, Mastercard, American Express
USAA Visa, American Express
Wells Fargo Visa, American Express

Visa cards come in all shapes and sizes. Some offer cash back bonus categories, while others provide intro APRs to help you pay off debt. There are many Visa-branded travel credit cards, offering bonus points for spending a certain amount in the first few billing cycles after your account opening, and without any foreign transaction fees either. Some have an intro annual fee as well, usually $0 for the first year before the full fee kicks in.

Whether you’re looking for a cash rewards or travel rewards credit card, the right option for you will depend on what you want to use it for, as well as your credit history and credit scores. Do you need a rewards program that allows for point transfers to various airline and hotel loyalty programs, or are you looking for something simpler? If you’re just beginning to establish your credit or trying to rebuild it, you should probably consider a secured credit card before a rewards card.

How Does Visa Make Money?

Visa makes money in part from swipe fees, which are a percentage of every purchase. The more transactions and money spent with Visa cards, the more money Visa makes.

Visa has the capacity to process over 65,000 transactions every second, and in 2017 Visa processed 111.2 billion transactions. That included a total volume of $10.2 trillion moving around, with $7.3 trillion of that coming from payments alone (the rest comes from balance transfers, cash advances, and various fees).

All that activity produced over $18.3 billion in operating revenues in 2017, with a net income of over $8.3 billion. In March 2018, there were over 3.3 billion Visa cards in circulation around the world.

Chart Visa’s stock performance over the past six years and you’ll get a graph encouraging plenty of hope for future success. As of October 15, 2018, Visa stock is valued at $133.87 per share.

Visa stock 2012–2017.

Visa stock 2012–2017. Image credit: Visa Annual Report 2017

Visa has been wildly successful but it’s actually not the world’s largest payment processor: as of 2017 it currently holds second place, after being surpassed by the Chinese company UnionPay in 2015.

UnionPay has been the leader in total number of cards since 2010, and in 2015 it also took the lead from Visa for total payment volume as well. Mastercard follows in third place, and together these three companies account for 80% of all cards on Earth. UnionPay’s success is limited to China for the most part, with Visa and Mastercard dominant around the rest of the world.

There are over 14 billion cards in circulation in total, including credit and debit cards. That number is expected to rise to 17 billion by 2020, with most of the growth coming from the expanding Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and African marketplaces.

A Brief History of Visa

“What if money became fully electronic? Well, it would become nothing but electrons and photons, that move around this world at the speed of light at minuscule cost.”

These are the words of Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus of Visa. His vision took hold, and the world has been permanently changed as digital financial services expanded and superseded traditional cash payment systems.

Visa was founded in 1958 in the U.S., with the launch of the original bank credit card: the BankAmericard, created by Bank of America (still a major issuer of credit and debit cards today).

The BankAmericard gained traction thanks to what has become known as “the drop,” a massive, unsolicited mailing of 60,000 BankAmericards to residents in Fresno, California. These were actual credit cards, made of paper, with credit limits of $300 each — imagine getting something like that in the mail today, out of the blue? (If that happens to you now you’ve probably become a victim of identity theft.)

Elvis Presley's BankAmericard. Good luck with this one, identity thieves.

Elvis Presley’s BankAmericard. Good luck with this one, identity thieves. Image credit: Graceland Auctions

Other banks wanted in on the action too, and they began taking part in the new program, but it wasn’t until 1976 that the BankAmericard system was rebranded by Dee Hock as Visa, “a simple name that sounds the same in every language.” The year before that, in 1975, Visa produced the world’s first debit card. From its not-so-humble origins in California, Visa has matured to develop global ambitions that are still reshaping how we think about finance and currency.

As an acronym, “Visa” has a recursive meaning: it stands for Visa International Service Association.

Visa has changed a lot since 1976, but the color scheme of the logo has stayed the same for most of that time, with a few different iterations: usually blue on top, yellow on bottom. This is a depiction of a California landscape, where the company originated, with the blue stripe representing the sky and the yellow stripe representing the golden hills of California. Check out the image near the top of this article for one of the original designs.

In 2014, Visa updated its logo in the U.S. to remove the stripes, and now it’s just a stylized version of the word, with a flick on the “V.” But the older styles are still used in some other parts of the world.

The current Visa logo, in the U.S., U.K., and some other regions.

The current Visa logo, in the U.S., U.K., and some other regions. Image credit: Visa.co.uk

In 2007, Visa restructured to better fit its role as a global corporation, and henceforth became officially known as Visa Inc. It had been a private company for its entire history, but a year after that, on March 19, 2008, Visa went public. And for the most part its stock has been on a continuous uphill march, as shown in the chart above.

At this point Visa Inc. actually separated from Visa Europe, splitting up with the aim of better serving its diverse set of customers. But this only lasted until 2016, when Visa Inc. acquired Visa Europe and they merged to become a single company once again, hoping to streamline its services to provide the same level of quality the world over.

Visa funds financial research of various kinds, gives to charity, and helps sponsor major events around the world. It began sponsoring the Olympic Games in 1986, for example, and has been doing so ever since. For the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, the company is sponsoring a group of over 40 Olympians and Paralympians, known as Team Visa and representing 17 different countries.

Team Visa. Image credit: Business Wire

Team Visa. Image credit: BusinessWire

Visa is the only card type accepted at many Olympic venues, a coveted spot that shows off and reinforces its brand to the entire world. It will be providing payment-enabled stickers, gloves, and commemorative pins for the event. These devices can be pre-loaded with funds, and contactless payments can be made by waving them near checkout terminals.

Today, Visa is more than just a payment network — it has continued to develop new tools and services for the digital age.

Those tools include Visa Checkout, a secure system to make online card payments easier, which can load not just Visa-branded cards but Mastercard, American Express, and Discover as well. There’s the Visa Token Service, which creates secure tokens to help prevent fraud for mobile wallets and contactless transactions. And there’s also Visa Direct, a quick and easy way for people and merchants to send and receive money online.

So, do you have a Visa? If not, what are you waiting for? You can be sure this massive and influential company won’t be going away any time soon.

Whether you’re looking for a credit card for travel, building credit, or just everyday spending at grocery stores and gas stations, you’ll find a variety of options to fit every lifestyle in The Best Credit Cards: 2018. We cover Visa cards as well as Mastercard, American Express, and Discover, so you’re sure to find the right card for you.
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