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Visa vs. Mastercard: Which card is better for your wallet?

Bankrate logo Bankrate 4/15/2021 Margaret Wack
a man and a woman standing in front of a window: Woman using credit card to pay at small business © domoyega / E+ / Getty Images Woman using credit card to pay at small business
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Visa and Mastercard are two of the four major credit card networks. Along with Discover and American Express, Visa and Mastercard help to facilitate credit card purchases and partner with credit card issuers like banks and lenders to process transactions.

Unlike Discover and American Express, however, Visa and Mastercard don't issue their own cards. Instead, both Visa and Mastercard credit cards are available from a wide variety of banks, credit unions and other lenders. Both Visa credit cards and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted at most locations. Cards belonging to either of these networks also often come with additional perks, like travel benefits and purchase protection.

While rewards credit cards belonging to the same credit card network do share some features, many of the most important aspects of a credit card are determined by the credit card issuer, not the credit card network. That means that you probably shouldn't choose a credit card based solely on whether it's part of the Mastercard or Visa credit card network, as cards from either network will come with similar additional perks.

Visa vs. Mastercard: What they are and how they differ

Visa and Mastercard are two major credit card networks in the United States. These networks help facilitate transactions between merchants and card issuers like banks and credit unions. Every time you use a credit card or debit card to make a purchase, your credit card network helps to process the transaction.

Visa and Mastercard share many similarities: neither company issues cards directly but instead partners with a variety of different card issuers. Additionally, both credit card networks offer added perks related to travel, purchase protection and fraud protection, and both are widely accepted throughout the United States and around the globe.

The main differences between Visa and Mastercard credit cards are relatively small and have to do with which specific banks and lenders they partner with, as well as the specific perks and benefits they offer. The two networks also have different credit card tiers that come with different benefits. Visa has three main tiers-Visa Traditional, Visa Signature and Visa Infinite-and Mastercard has four-Standard & Gold Mastercard, Titanium & Platinum Mastercard, World Mastercard and World Elite Mastercard.

Ultimately, a card from either Visa or Mastercard is a good choice, as long as the terms and benefits set by the card issuer are favorable. You should look for a card with low rates and fees, rewards and plenty of benefits.

Visa vs. Mastercard benefits

Travel perksRental car insuranceOther perks
Visa TraditionalRoadside dispatch, emergency card replacement, emergency cash disbursement and travel discounts at preferred hotelsNoneZero liability fraud protection, discounts with select merchants
Visa SignatureEverything included in the Visa Traditional, plus travel and emergency assistance services, lost luggage reimbursement, a global entry statement credit and trip delay, cancellation or interruption reimbursementBuilt-in auto rental coverageEverything included in the Visa Traditional, plus extended warranty protection, price protection and return protection
Visa InfiniteEverything included in the Visa Signature, plus airport lounge access and access to the Visa Infinite luxury hotel collection and concierge servicesBuilt-in auto rental coverageEverything included in the Visa Signature, plus other exclusive experiences and rewards
Standard & Gold MastercardMastercard Global ServicesAvailable with some cardsZero liability protection
Titanium & Platinum MastercardEverything included in the Mastercard Standard and Gold tier, plus curated benefits and offersAvailable with some cardsEverything included in the Mastercard Standard and Gold tier, plus access to Mastercard rewards and experiences
World MastercardEverything included in the Mastercard Titanium and Platinum tier, plus complimentary professional travel services, airport concierge access and hotel stay and lowest rate guaranteesAvailable with some cardsEverything included in the Mastercard Titanium and Platinum tier, plus partner discounts and cellphone protection
World Elite MastercardEverything included in the Mastercard World tier, plus access to World Elite concierge servicesAvailable with some cardsEverything included in the Mastercard World Tier, plus exclusive discounts with partners like Lyft, Boxed and Fandango

Travel perks

Both cards come with plenty of travel perks, especially in the higher tiers. For example, Visa Signature and Infinite cards come with lost luggage reimbursement, a global entry statement credit and trip delay, cancellation or interruption reimbursement and more. World and World Elite Mastercard cards come with travel perks, including complimentary professional travel services, airport concierge access and hotel stay and lowest rate guarantees.

Rental car insurance waiver

Both Mastercard and Visa offer rental car insurance waivers with some of their cards. This waiver allows you to forgo purchasing rental car insurance from a car rental agency. Instead, Visa or Mastercard will cover the tab if you're in an accident while driving a rented vehicle. This is a nice additional perk that can save you money if you rent cars frequently when you travel.

Zero liability fraud protection

All Visa and Mastercard credit card tiers come with zero liability fraud protection, which protects you in the event that someone steals your credit card info or uses your card to make an unauthorized purchase. This is a nice feature that, while common to most credit cards, is much appreciated in the event that there's a fraudulent charge on your account.

Purchase protection

In addition to fraud protection, many Visa and Mastercard credit cards also come with some level of purchase protection. For example, Visa Infinite comes with purchase protection that can replace, repair or reimburse the item if your purchase is stolen or damaged within the first 90 days. Similarly, Mastercard offers purchase protection for items up to 90 days from the date of purchase.

Different benefits from different card issuers

While Mastercard benefits and Visa benefits are pretty similar, these additional perks are often offered at the discretion of individual card issuers. This means that, even if your card belongs to a particular Visa or Mastercard tier, it may not come with all of the benefits listed above.

On the flip side, most cards also come with plenty of different perks and benefits that are unique to the card issuer, in addition to the benefits offered by the credit card network. If you're curious about the benefits that come with a particular card, you should be sure to read the fine print to determine exactly what perks and add-ons are included.

Which payment network is right for you?

If you're trying to decide between a Visa or Mastercard, the reality is that either credit card network is likely a good choice. Both credit card networks are widely accepted throughout the United States/globally and have useful additional benefits. A card from either credit card network will be accepted pretty much everywhere you shop.

Which credit card network you decide to go with ultimately matters much less than which specific credit card issuer and individual credit card you decide on. This is because the benefits offered by Mastercard and Visa are both pretty similar. While nice additional perks, Visa and Mastercard benefits are generally less important than more pertinent details like a particular credit card's rewards structure or interest rate.

At a glance: Bankrate's picks for the top Visa and Mastercard credit cards

Card NameCredit Card Network
Chase Sapphire Preferred(R) CardVisa
Chase Sapphire Reserve(R)Visa
Chase Freedom Unlimited(R)Visa
Upgrade Visa(R) Card with Cash RewardsVisa
Credit One Bank(R) Platinum Rewards Visa with No Annual FeeVisa
Citi Rewards+(R) CardMastercard
Citi(R) Double Cash CardMastercard
Sam’s Club(R) Mastercard(R)Mastercard
Capital One Platinum Credit CardMastercard
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit CardMastercard

The bottom line

Along with American Express and Discover, Visa and Mastercard are two of the major credit card networks. Visa and Mastercard don't actually issue any credit cards themselves; instead, they partner with a variety of different financial institutions to issue cards.

Both Visa and Mastercard credit cards come with a variety of additional benefits, including travel perks, car rental insurance waivers, fraud protection, purchase protection and more. Each credit card network also features a variety of different tiers, with higher tiers associated with additional perks and benefits.

While there are some small differences between Visa and Mastercard credit card perks, the two credit card networks are ultimately pretty similar. When choosing a credit card, you should focus more on the card features and benefits provided by the issuer and think of any additional benefits from Mastercard or Visa as an added bonus.

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