Major credit cards are any cards that belong to one of the four big credit card networks: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover. That’s what stores mean by “we accept all major credit cards.” A major credit card will almost always have the logo of its network displayed prominently on the front (in some cases it’ll be on the back). If a card doesn’t have such a logo, it’s likely a store card that can only be used at a specific retailer.
Some major credit cards can also be considered more “major” than others, depending on the issuer. The 15 largest credit card companies account for more than 75% of all outstanding balances. So a Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover card from one of them – Chase or Capital One, for example, might fit the description of a major credit card a bit better than one from the dozens of other banks and credit unions that issue credit cards. Major-issuer credit cards are the product of large-scale operations, after all, and often provide perks to match, from an easy-to-use website and free mobile app to better rates, rewards and fees.
Here’s what you need to know about major credit cards:
- Major credit cards are those on the Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover networks.
- Most U.S. merchants accept all major credit cards, although American Express lags behind the others by about 2 million locations.
- Visa and Mastercard are accepted virtually everywhere in the world, while Discover cards work in 185 countries and territories and American Express in 160+. Discover and Amex aren’t necessarily widely accepted in all the countries that take them, either.
- American Express and Discover issue credit cards, in addition to serving as card networks. Visa and Mastercard do not.
- Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank are among the other major credit card issuers.
When picking a major credit card to use, it’s easy to narrow your search down. If you don’t plan to travel much, any network will do. But if you’re going to use your card abroad a lot, Visa and Mastercard are the safest bets.
By the way, it’s worth noting that Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover aren’t the world’s only major card networks. You’ve also got the likes of India’s RuPay and China’s UnionPay. But cards on those networks are only available to people in those countries.