Major credit cards are any cards that belong to one of the big four 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 show the logo of its network 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 those companies, like Chase or Capital One, might fit the description of a major credit card best.
There are dozens of other banks and credit unions that issue credit cards, but their products are less popular. Major credit cards from the top issuers are the product of large-scale operations, after all. And they often provide perks to match, from better rates, rewards and fees to an easy-to-use website and free mobile app.
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.
- You can usually see the logo of your credit card network on the front of your card. Sometimes it is on the back. If there is no logo, you likely have a store card that only works at a specific retailer.
- Most U.S. merchants accept all major credit cards. But American Express lags behind the others by about 1 million locations.
- Visa and Mastercard are accepted virtually everywhere in the world. Discover cards work in 185 countries and territories. American Express cards work 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, Citi, 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 credit card networks. There’s also the likes of India’s RuPay and China’s UnionPay, for example.