At Experian, one of our priorities is consumer credit and finance education. This post may contain links and references to one or more of our partners, but we provide an objective view to help you make the best decisions. For more information, see our Editorial Policy.
The choice between Visa and Mastercard isn't always clear because both are relatively similar in terms of acceptance and benefits. But depending on how and where you shop, one may be a better option than the other for you.
Neither company issues credit cards directly. Rather, they act as payment networks for cards with a Visa or Mastercard logo on them, which are issued by banks and credit unions. Here's what you need to know before you pick your next card.
The Difference Between Visa and Mastercard
While there aren't a lot of differences between the two payment networks, there are some aspects where the contrast may be enough to give one an advantage over the other for you.
In general, Visa and Mastercard are accepted virtually everywhere you shop, both in the U.S. and internationally. So if you're heading abroad for a vacation or business trip, either should work just fine.
There are, however, some exceptions to this rule in the U.S. Costco, for instance, accepts only Visa credit cards, although you can use a Mastercard debit card if you have one.
In contrast, Kroger has recently stopped accepting Visa credit cards at some of its stores, including several Foods Co. locations in California and Smith's Food & Drug, which has several locations across the Mountain West.
If you frequently shop at a store that doesn't accept one of the two, it may be better to get the other. Otherwise, it may be better to pick a card based on its other features instead.
Visa offers three levels of benefits: Basic, Signature and Infinite. Its basic level offers standard benefits, including rental car insurance, zero-liability fraud protection and roadside dispatch. With Signature, you'll also get extended warranty protection and travel and emergency assistance services. Finally, Infinite adds return protection, purchase protection and several travel-related insurance benefits.
Mastercard also has three levels: Basic, World and World Elite. The network's basic cards come with perks like price protection, extended warranty protection and zero-liability fraud protection. At the World and World Elite levels, you'll also get a complimentary ShopRunner membership with free two-day shipping at select retailers and some special travel benefits.
One thing to keep in mind is that while Visa may offer some benefits that Mastercard doesn't and vice versa, some credit card issuers may choose to offer a benefit that doesn't typically come with other cards on its given network.
Visa and Mastercard partner with various credit card issuers, so if you want to do business with a specific bank or credit union, you may be limited in your options. As of March 2019, for instance, Chase issues only one Mastercard credit card and 26 Visa credit cards. Also, Citi offers only two Visa credit cards—the consumer and business Costco cards—and the rest are Mastercard.
Smaller banks and credit unions may also partner with only one or the other. With most other major credit card issuers, however, you may get a mix of the two.
Also keep in mind that if you want a Discover or American Express credit card, those card issuers use their own networks, so you won't get a Visa or Mastercard with either.
Visa Checkout and Masterpass have been around for years, allowing cardholders to check out securely when shopping online. And in general, the level of security is the same between the two.
In fact, in 2018, Visa and Mastercard announced that they would combine the two services into the same button consumers can click at checkout. Discover and American Express also announced they would join the two payment networks.
Which Payment Network Should You Choose?
There's not a lot of contrast between Visa and Mastercard, so for most people, it may not matter which one you pick. Rather, focus on finding the credit card that will give you the most bang for your buck through its rewards program and benefits.
If, however, you have a specific need, such as shopping at a specific retailer where only one is accepted, or you want a perk that only one of them offers, it may be better to pick the network that works better for you.
Before you apply, consider using Experian CreditMatch™ to compare credit cards based on your credit score.
Want to instantly increase your credit score? Experian Boost™ helps by giving you credit for the utility and mobile phone bills you're already paying. Until now, those payments did not positively impact your score.
This service is completely free and can boost your credit scores fast by using your own positive payment history. It can also help those with poor or limited credit situations. Other services such as credit repair may cost you up to thousands and only help remove inaccuracies from your credit report.