Credit card networks vs. issuers | finder.com
Credit card networks vs. issuers

Credit card networks vs. issuers: What’s the difference?

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Knowing the difference between issuers and networks could help you better understand your credit card choices.

You have many options when it comes to a credit card — big-name brands, rewards and miles, even bank cards. But who issues the cards in your wallet, and why does it matter?

Simply put, a network decides where a credit card can be used, while an issuer distributes its branded cards to customers.

Credit card networks

Credit card networks are the bridge between merchants — the shops that accept your credit card — and the banks that issue the credit cards themselves.

Of the networks, you’ll find four major players: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover. Visa’s network owns the wide majority of the market share worldwide, followed by Mastercard, Discover and American Express.

Networks set the fees that a retailer pays when you swipe your card for purchases. Called interchange fees, these costs can vary by credit card brand, swipe location and transaction type — for instance, in a store, online or by phone. In the US, merchants typically pay to the network about 2% of your total transaction in fees.

Credit card networks also:

  • Decide where credit cards can be accepted.
  • Approve and process transactions.
  • Facilitate payments among cardholder, merchants and issuers.

Networks don’t determine fees that a cardholder pays, like your card’s annual, overlimit, interest, late or foreign transaction fees. They also are not responsible for customer service.

American Express and Discover: Network and issuer

Unlike Visa and Mastercard, American Express and Discover are both networks and issuers. This means that even if your American Express or Discover card is branded with a bank or company, your card will likely comes directly from them.

As issuers and networks, American Express and Discover set the fees for both the cardholder and the merchants who make sales through their network.

Unlike Visa and Mastercard, American Express and Discover handle their own customer service. If you lose your Amex in France, you’ll contact American Express directly, whereas you’ll have to call your issuing bank if you lose your Visa.

Credit card issuers

A credit card issuer is who you actually get your credit card from.

Visa and Mastercard are networks only, its branded cards issued directly from what we call credit card companies — or the banks and credit unions themselves, like Chase, Capital One and USAA. To learn who issues your card, take a good look at it: You’ll often see the logo of the bank that issues your card somewhere near the Visa or Mastercard logo.

As underwriters, these credit card issuers or companies are responsible for:

  • Reviewing and approving credit card applications.
  • Setting the terms and conditions of individual credit cards.
  • Issuing the physical cards you hold in your wallet.
  • Providing funds up to your credit limit.
  • Answering questions and providing other support to its customers.

How do credit card issuers make money?

Credit card issuers profit from both the cardholder and the merchants who accept payments on its cards. Specifically, revenue can come from:

  • Interest fees charged to the cardholder on purchases and balance transfers.
  • Annual fees cardholders pay to use these cards.
  • Overlimit fees when charges and interest nudge a balance over a cardholder’s credit limit.
  • Late fees when a payment is received after a statement date.
  • Credit monitoring and protection along with other optional services provided to the cardholder for a fee.
  • Swipe fees charged to the merchant, typically split between the issuer and the network.

Visa and Mastercard

Visa and Mastercard are the two of the most popular credit card brands in the world. They don’t directly issue credit cards. Rather, they brand cards issued by banks and credit unions.

Rewards and interest rates are decided by the bank, credit union or other company — for instance, an airline or hotel — they’re working with to issue the card.

Both cards come with global acceptance, but Mastercard is more widely accepted worldwide: It can be used in 210 countries to Visa’s 170, which could be important depending on where you travel.

Card types

Visa and Mastercard come with four general membership cards, each offering such benefits as car rental coverage, fraud protection, emergency assistance, card replacements and extended warranties. Upgraded cards come with travel advisors, extended price protection and hotel or travel upgrades.

Visa

  • Visa Traditional
  • Visa Signature
  • Business Visa
  • Professional visa

Mastercard

  • Standard Mastercard
  • Gold Mastercard
  • Platinum Mastercard
  • World and World Elite Mastercard

Compare two cards: Visa vs Mastercard

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Read Rates & Fees
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Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®

Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®

  • Enjoy 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase
  • NEW - Control your card - instantly secure your accounts by locking your cards with Barclays SecurHold™, plus set transaction limits and block certain purchase categories for you or your authorized users. Available only on the Barclays mobile app.
  • Book travel your way—no airline, seat or hotel restrictions—and redeem your miles for travel statement credits
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • International chip and PIN for use at self-service chip terminals around the world
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • Read Rates & Fees
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Compare credit cards

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual Fee
2x points on travel and dining. 1x points on all other purchases
18.24% to 25.24% variable
$95
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000 spent, then unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
17.24% to 25.99% variable
$0
Earn 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000 spent. After that earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on your purchases
15.24% to 26.24% variable
$0
Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 or more in purchases with your new card within the first 3 months of card membership. Rates & Fees
5% back in rotating categories up to $1,500 combined each activated quarter, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
17.24% to 25.99% variable
$0
0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers.
N/A
14.24% variable
$0
Enjoy a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for the first 15 months, then a low ongoing APR of 14.24% variable.
3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit. 1x points on all other purchases
19.24% to 26.24% variable
$450
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
3% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year, then 1%. 2% at US gas stations and select US department stores and 1% on all other purchases
15.24% to 26.24% variable
$0
Earn a $150 bonus statement credit after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Rates & Fees
6% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year, then 1%. 3% at US gas stations and select US department stores and 1% on all other purchases
15.24% to 26.24% variable
$95
Earn $200 bonus cash back after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Rates & Fees
5% on up to $2,000 each activated quarter on two categories combined (1% after), 2% on one everyday category and 1% on all other purchases
16.24% to 25.74% variable
$0
When you spend $500 on your card within the first 90 days, you’ll receive a $150 cash back bonus.
2x points on gas, groceries and airlines, whichever you spend the most on each month, 2x points on cell phone services and charities and 1x points on all other purchases
16.24% to 26.24% variable
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($49 thereafter)
Earn 25,000 enrollment FlexPoints worth $375 in travel after spending $2,000 in the first 4 months.
2x miles at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United and 1x miles on all other purchases
18.24% to 25.24% variable
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 20,000 miles after spending $8,000 in the first 6 months.
5x points on flights booked directly or flights and hotels booked through American Express Travel. 1x points on all other purchases
None (Charge Card)
$550
Get 5x Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5x points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com. Rates & Fees
2x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
17.99% to 26.99% variable
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first 3 months. Rates & Fees
2x miles at US restaurants and on purchases made directly with Delta and 1x miles on all other purchases
17.99% to 26.99% variable
$0
Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & Fees
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
17.99% to 26.99% variable
$0
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & Fees
12x points on Hilton Portfolio spending, 6x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
17.99% to 26.99% variable
$95
Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 or more in purchases with your new card within the first 3 months of card membership. Rates & Fees
5% back at US office supply stores and on US wireless telephone services on up to $50,000 annually (then 1%). 3% on a chosen category on up to $50,000 annually, then 1% after and on everything else
14.49%, 19.49% or 21.49% variable
$0
Save on interest with a 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months. After that your APR will be 14.49%, 19.49% or 21.49% variable.
2x points on everyday business purchases on up to $50,000 annually, then 1x points
15.49%, 18.49% or 21.49% variable
$0
Earn 2x Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases on up to $50,000 with no category restrictions.
4x points on two categories on up to $150,000 in combined purchases annually, then 1x points after that and on all other purchases
16.49%, 20.49% or 24.49% variable
$295
Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first 3 months of card membership.
1.5% discount when you pay early, with no cap on what you can earn back
None (Charge Card)
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($250 thereafter)
Get a 1.5% discount when you pay early, with no cap on what you can earn back.
2x points on purchases through Amex Travel and 1x points on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 5,000 Membership Rewards® points after your first purchase on the card within the first year of card membership.
6x points at Marriott Bonvoy hotels; 4x points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and on US wireless telephone and shipping services; 2x points on all other purchases
17.99% to 26.99% variable
$125
Earn 100,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.
5x points on flights and prepaid hotels through Amex Travel, 1.5x points if you spend $5,000 on a single eligible purchase on up to 1 million additional points per year and 1x points on all other purchases
None (Charge Card)
$595
Earn 50,000 points after spending $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after spending an additional $10,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Earn 2x miles on every purchase made directly with Delta and earn 1x miles on all other purchases
17.99%, 21.99% or 26.99% variable
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new card within your first 3 months. Plus earn $50 after you make your first Delta purchase in the same timeframe.
2x miles on direct Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
17.99%, 21.99% or 26.99% variable
$195
Earn 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) plus 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. In addition, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
2x miles on direct Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
17.99%, 21.99% or 26.99% variable
$450
Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months.
12x points at Hilton hotels, 6x points on select business and travel purchases and 3x points on all other purchases
17.99% to 26.99% variable
$95
Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.
1% cash back to your choice of nonprofits, K-12 schools, colleges and religious organizations
16.24% to 22.24% variable
$0
1% cash back to the nonprofits, K-12 schools, colleges and religious organizations of your choice.
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1.5% for cash back
17.24% variable
$495
Receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1% for cash back
17.24% variable
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare or cash back
17.24% variable
$995
Earn 2% point value when redeemed for airfare or cash back through the Luxury rewards program.
2x miles on all purchases
18.24%, 22.24% or 25.24% variable
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($89 thereafter)
Enjoy 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
Earn 3x points on travel — or 4x points if you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage member — and 1.5x points on all other purchases
12.99% to 17.99% variable
$0
Earn 25,000 bonus points when you spend $2,500 in the first 90 days from account opening.
2% cash back for all PenFed Honors Advantage members and 1.5% cash back on all purchases
11.99% to 17.99% variable
$0
2% cash back for all PenFed Honors Advantage members and 1.5% cash back on all purchases made with your card.
Earn 5x points on gas at the pump and 3x points on groceries. Earn 1x points on all other purchases.
11.99% to 17.99% variable
$0
Earn 5x points on gas at the pump and 3x points on groceries. Earn 1x points on all other purchases.
3% cash back on up to $10,000 in the first 12 months, then 1.5% on all purchases
15.24%, 19.24% or 25.24% variable
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases. See Rates and Fees.
N/A
14.24%, 20.24% or 25.24% variable
$0
An 15 months 0% intro APR period on both purchases and balance transfers, plus zero foreign transaction fees, makes this is a strong well-rounded card. See Rates and Fees
15.24% to 26.24% variable
$0
Build your credit with no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score.
See terms
See terms
The First Access Card is a true Visa® credit card that does not require perfect credit for approval.
9.24% to 17.99% variable
$0
Low APR on all purchases including cash advances.
11.99% to 17.99% variable
$0
Earn a $100 bonus after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening.
1% cash back on all purchases or in categories based on Credit One Bank’s discretion
20.24% to 26.24% variable
$0 to $99
Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases.
Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV.
20.24% to 26.24% variable
$0 to $99
Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases including gas, groceries, and services such as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV.
Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases and double cash back rewards at the NASCAR.com Superstore
20.24% to 26.24% variable
$0 to $99
Get 1% cash back rewards on eligible purchases and double cash back rewards at the NASCAR.com Superstore.
See terms
$0 to $99
The Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card is specifically designed for those with less than perfect credit.
9.99% fixed
$48
This secured card can help you rebuild your credit with an initial deposit of $200 to $1,000.
19.64% variable
$35
A secured Visa® credit card that helps you build your credit quickly.
N/A
14.74% variable
$39
No minimum credit score and no credit history required.
N/A
10.74% variable
$49
Build or rebuild your credit with this secured card.

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Major differences among networks and issuers

Visa Mastercard American Express Discover
Nationwide acceptance
Global Acceptance

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Variety of choices cross-icons cross-icons
Network
Issuer cross-icons cross-icons

What is an issuing bank?

An issuing bank is the bank, credit union or other financial institution that provides its branded credit card to a cardholder. The bank determines a cardholder’s line of credit and shares any liability for default with the acquiring bank — or the bank or financial institution that actually processes payments on behalf of a merchant.

Bottom line

It can be hard enough to narrow down your options when it comes to choosing a credit card. Knowing the difference between a network and an issuer can help you better understand how you ultimately use and benefit from your choice.

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