The distinction between a credit card company (or issuer) and a credit card network is understandably confusing, but luckily it is simple to explain. Credit card companies are the financial institutions (in most cases, banks) that issue credit cards to consumers and service their accounts. Credit card networks, on the other hand, dictate where credit cards can be used and facilitate the payment process between credit card users, merchants, and credit card issuers.
The trickiest part of all this is the fact that two of the world’s largest card networks – American Express and Discover – also issue credit cards. In other words, credit cards on the Amex or Discover network are predominantly issued by American Express and Discover, respectively, while a card on the Visa or MasterCard network could be issued by a company like Capital One, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, but NOT from Visa or MasterCard.
Below you will find additional information about the different roles that credit card companies and networks play as well as a scouting report of the largest and most popular players in this market. This includes contact information for each card issuer and network as well as a breakdown of their performance in various CardHub studies and reports.
Credit Card Networks
Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover are the four major credit card networks. They handle the worldwide processing of credit card transactions, acting as a gateway between merchants and credit card companies for authorizing and processing each transaction as well as setting the terms of those transactions (e.g. interchange fee & fraud liability).
As you can see from the graphic below, there is a clear hierarchy among these companies, based on the number of retailers and cardholders each has in its portfolio. (Check out CardHub’s Statistics Center for more market share information about each card network.)
The following table will give you a sense of how Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express differ in terms of where they can be used – both in the U.S. and abroad – as well as their performance in significant CardHub Studies & Reports.
|U.S. Acceptance||8 million merchants||8 million merchants||7 million merchants||4.5 million merchants|
|International Acceptance||200+ Countries||210+ Countries||49 Countries||160+ Countries|
*Ratings reflect performance in CardHub Studies & Reports
It’s also important to reiterate that American Express and Discover aren’t just networks; they’re credit card companies too. As a result, if you have a problem with your Discover bill, for example, you contact Discover directly. But if you have a problem with your Visa bill, you will have to contact the card’s issuer (e.g. Capital One).
Credit Card Companies
Credit cards are, for the most part, issued by banks and credit unions. They provide financial institutions with a relatively steady source of revenue, derived from account fees, interest charges, and payment processing fees assessed to merchants. The transactional nature of credit cards also gives issuers the chance to establish ongoing relationships with consumers and upsell them to other products and services.
The heart of a credit card business is its underwriting team. Their job is to evaluate applicants’ credit standing and disposable income in order to determine whether they’re suitable for account approval given their risk and profit potential. The terms a credit card company is able to offer you and its ability to turn a profit are contingent on having sophisticated underwriting and minimizing uncollectible debt.
The following chart will show you which companies are the biggest players in the credit card game, and you can also check out CardHub’s Statistics Center for a more detailed look at the credit card landscape. Furthermore, you can take an in-depth look at each major issuer in our Scouting Report below.
If you aren’t sure which company issued your credit card, check the plastic. The issuer’s name typically appears in big fancy lettering on the top right or left corner of the card’s front (see image above) as well as on the bottom of its back (see below).
This won’t necessarily be the case with store credit cards or co-branded cards, however, as they typically bear the name of the retailer or organization with which they’re associated. The issuer’s name will be on the card somewhere, but it may be more difficult to locate than with a normal credit card.
It’s important to understand which company issued your card as well as which network it’s on because the former will tell you who to call if you have a question about your account and the latter will tell you where you can use your card as well as what fraud liability, auto rental, and extended warranted policies apply to you.
If you are not sure which credit card company is right for you, you can also get credit card advice from our proprietary ‘Credit Card Advisor’.
Scouting Report of Major Credit Card Companies
Contact Info: 1-800-528-4800 | http://www.americanexpress.com/
Established in 1850 in New York City, American Express now operates in more than 130 countries worldwide. As of 2012, Amex was the 3rd largest credit card network in the world with a market share of 15% and the 4th largest credit card issuer with a market share of 9%. For more information about Amex as a card network, check out our Credit Card Network Comparison.
American Express is also known for being the world’s largest issuer of charge cards and for targeting its products to high-income individuals with strong credit scores. As a result, Amex is a great source of lucrative rewards credit cards, but is not heavily involved in the credit improvement space. It is interesting to note, however, that Amex has in recent years partnered with Walmart to introduce the Bluebird Prepaid Card, the company’s first foray into the growing prepaid card market and seemingly an attempt to expand its consumer reach.
For more information, you can check out where American Express has ranked in various CardHub studies below as well as read reviews about American Express products and services.
Bank of America
Contact Info: 1-800-732-9194| http://www.bankofamerica.com/
Bank of America is not only one of the largest financial institutions in the world, but one of the largest companies as well. Headquartered in Charlotte, NC, the banking behemoth now has nearly 300,000 full-time employees and does $100+ billion in annual revenue.
Bank of America’s history has many parallels with the country whose name it bears. The company, which was founded in San Francisco in 1904, actually began as Bank of Italy and was intended to serve the needs of America’s growing immigrant population. The company was renamed in 1930 and its continued expansion eventually resulted in the creation of the first ever general-use credit card, known as the BankAmericard (which later became the basis for VISA).
Bank of America has since made numerous acquisitions, including the all-stock purchase of Merrill Lynch at the Federal Reserve’s behest during the Great Recession. Like many other large financial institutions, Bank of America has also come under a great deal of fire for various alleged improprieties during the downturn and beyond.
In addition to its credit card operation, Bank of America offers deposit accounts, investment vehicles, and financial management services to consumers. The company also has corporate and investment banking divisions. It trades under the symbol NYSE:BAC.
For more information about Bank of America, you can check out where the company ranks in our studies and reports as well as what current and former customers have said about their experiences doing business with BofA.
Contact Info: 1- 302-622-8990| https://www.barclaycardus.com/
Barclaycard, the payment card business of London-based banking giant Barclays, was the first UK credit card program when it was introduced in 1966. Barclaycard US was established in 2004, when Barclays purchased U.S.-based Juniper Financial Corporation.
Barclaycard US is best known for its suite of co-branded credit cards, issued in partnership with popular brands like U.S. Airways, L.L. Bean, and the National Football League.
Contact Info: 1-800-955-7070| http://www.capitalone.com/
Capital One is the 5th largest U.S. credit card company in terms of both outstanding balances and purchase volume. The company, established in 1995, is based in McLean, VA and has around 1,000 branch locations in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Virginia. In addition to credit cards, Capital One is known for offering everyday banking products, personal loans, and auto loans.
Capital One has made a name for itself in the credit card market with its simple rewards programs and consumer-friendly fee structures. The company’s Venture Rewards Card has long been regarded as one of the best travel rewards cards on the market, its Quicksilver Card is one of the best everyday cash rewards cards, and the Simply Cash for Business is one of the small business credit cards. Capital One was also the first credit card issuer to abolish foreign transaction fees across all of its cards.
- NPSL Credit Card Policy: Fair
- Chargeback Policy: Excellent
- Small Business Protection: 60%
- Foreign Exchange Fee: None
Contact Info: 1-800-432-3117| https://creditcards.chase.com/
Chase credit cards are issued by JPMorgan Chase & Co. – the largest bank in the U.S. by total deposits. Chase Bank was an independent entity – Chase Manhattan Bank – until the company’s 2000 merger with commercial and investment banking giant JPMorgan. JP Morgan Chase now employs more than 260,000 people and does business in more than 100 countries.
Chase is known for offering a wide range of credit cards, from its popular Freedom rewards cards and co-branded offers through the likes of British Airways, United, and Southwest Airlines to the free balance transfer card, Slate. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also provides one of the most lucrative initial rewards bonuses on the market. As you might expect based on the types of cards that Chase offers, the company’s products are geared primarily to people with above-average credit.
Contact Info: 1-800-347-4934* | http://online.citibank.com/US/
*Tip: Most types of Citicards have their own customer service number, so if you’re looking for information about a particular card, type its name into the search box at the top of the page.
Citibank – the consumer banking division of the financial services company Citigroup (and a CardHub advertising partner) – was founded in 1812 as the City Bank of New York. As of 2013, it was the fourth largest U.S. bank by total deposits.
Citibank targets the majority of its credit card offers to people with above-average credit standing. The company is known for offering a number of cards with extended 0% introductory periods as well as a broad selection of rewards. Citi has two well-known rewards programs – Simplicity and Thank You – in addition to co-branded partnerships with American Airlines and Hilton Hotels.
Contact Info: 1-800-347-2683 | http://www.discovercard.com/
Discover is both the country’s 6th largest credit card issuer and the world’s 4th largest card network. (For more information about Discover as a card network, check out our[EF1] Credit Card Network Comparison section.) The company began as a division of the financial services company Dean Witter and was designed to issue the company’s Sears credit card. Discover Financial Services became an independent company in 2007.
Discover is known for offering cash rewards and was, in fact, the pioneer of the first cash back program. Discover has a wide range of credit card offers, however, including a suite of 0% cards under the “Discover it” brand, various travel rewards cards, and co-branded cards offered in partnership with a number of retailers and major universities.
- NPSL Credit Card Policy: Good
- Chargeback Policy: Excellent
- Small Business Protection: 60%
- Foreign Transaction Fee: None
Contact Info: 1-888-762-2265 | https://www.pnc.com/
PNC Financial Services Inc. – more commonly known by its ticker symbol, PNC – is the 6th largest U.S. bank in terms of total assets and deposits as well as the 13th largest credit card issuer based on purchase volume. As a regional player with a footprint in 19 states as well as the District of Columbia, the PNC brand is strongest east of the Mississippi River where the vast majority of its retail bank branches are located. PNC has particularly strong ties to Pittsburgh, the home of its corporate headquarters. In fact, PNC Park is home to the city’s professional baseball team – the Pirates.
Nevertheless, PNC is a full-service credit card issuer with offers ranging from secured credit cards for people with bad credit to rewards cards for small business owners. The majority of PNC’s credit cards, however, target people with stellar credit who are interested in earning rewards. It’s also interesting to note that roughly 40% of the company’s credit card offers are branded for small business use.
- NPSL Credit Card Policy: N/A
- Chargeback Policy: N/A
- Small Business Protection: N/A
- Foreign Transaction Fee: 3%
Contact Info: 1-800-531-8722| www.usaa.com
USAA – the United States Automobile Association – is a full-service financial institution that offers credit cards, banking products, insurance, and investment services, primarily to members of the military and their families. While USAA does offer a variety of military-affiliated credit cards, the general-public is free to apply for them in addition to the rest of USAA’s credit card portfolio.
Contact Info: 1-888-852-5786 | www.usbank.com/
*Tip: Most types of U.S. Bank credit cards have their own customer service number, so if you’re looking for information about a particular card, type its name into the search box at the top of the page.
U.S. Bank is the country’s fifth biggest bank in terms of total assets, the fourth biggest bank in terms of branches, and the seventh largest credit card issuer. When it comes to credit cards, U.S. Bank is known for rewards. The company offers a number of co-branded credit cards with corporate partners like Kroger, Club Carlson, Ace, and Harley-Davidson. U.S. Bank rewards cards are also offered under the company’s PlexPerks brand.
It’s interesting to note that while many of the major issuers that are known for their rewards target offers almost exclusively to people with above-average credit standing, U.S. Bank extends credit to people across the credit spectrum. In fact, its Harley-Davidson Secured Credit Card is one of the best credit-building cards on the market.
Contact Info: 1-800-432-3117| https://creditcards.chase.com/
Wells Fargo was founded in 1852 to meet the banking needs of pioneers during the California Gold Rush. That’s not the only fun fact about the bank either. Wells Fargo actually holds the first ever banking charter issued by the United States government, assuming it through the company’s 2008 acquisition of Wachovia. As of 2013, Wells Fargo was the 4th largest bank in the U.S. in terms of total assets and the third largest in terms of total deposits.
Wells Fargo’s reach into the credit card market isn’t quite as extensive as its presence in the everyday banking space, however. It is the 8th largest credit card issuer in the U.S. Nevertheless, Wells Fargo targets offers to people across the credit spectrum – from credit building credit cards to rewards credit cards to business credit cards.
It’s also interesting to note that while Wells Fargo ranks as the 45th most admired company in the world, according to CNN, other surveys have shown Wells Fargo to have one of the worst reputations, both overall and in terms of customer service, in the banking industry.