Visa vs. Mastercard: Which Is Best for You?

What are the differences between Visa and Mastercard?

Woman with credit card and tablet
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If you're trying to decide between Visa and Mastercard, don't fret about it too much. These two payment networks offer similar benefits, and it's really the issuer (i.e., the bank or the credit union) that shapes the card's terms, features, and advantages. 

Still, there are some differences between Visa and Mastercard that are interesting and helpful to note. 

Key Takeaways

  • Visa and Mastercard are payment networks, while banks and credit unions are card issuers.
  • Visa and Mastercard are very similar; most differences between cards are determined by the issuer, not the payment network. 
  • Each payment network has three levels of cards, but they're still not all that different from each other. 

What’s the Difference Between Visa and Mastercard?

Visa and Mastercard are both payment networks, like Discover and American Express. Payment networks don't create cards directly, but rather they provide a backchannel for your payment to get to the merchant. 

They provide a baseline amount of benefits, but it's really the card issuer like the bank or the credit union that designs the important features of the card, including the fees, APRs, and rewards. A credit card’s issuing bank also determines acceptance requirements for its cards, including the credit score you need to apply. 

The truth is that Visa and Mastercard are very similar to each other. Most merchants in the U.S. accept both. (One notable exception is Costco, which only accepts Visa cards due to a contract with the company.) And while Visa used to have greater acceptance internationally than Mastercard, the two networks are now even in acceptance rates, though you may find it easier to use one or the other in a particular country. 

Visa vs. Mastercard Benefits

Within each network, there are some differences in the basic benefits that come with certain types of cards. Visa and Mastercard both have three levels of cards, each with different perks. It's here that you'll find the main differences between Visa and Mastercard, but even so, these differences are relatively small. 

Issuers may also add or subtract benefits from their cards, so check out the webpage or enrollment materials for an individual card you have or are considering, to be sure what perks are provided. 

Visa Card Options

There are the three main types of Visa cards, each with specific features:

  Standard Visa  Visa Signature Visa Infinite
Return Protection N/A N/A Get up to $300 if you try to return an item within 90 days and the merchant won't accept it
Purchase Security N/A N/A Get up to $10,000 per claim if something you bought is stolen or damaged within 90 days
Travel and Emergency Assistance N/A Hotline to get help if you're traveling  Hotline to get help if you're traveling 
Travel Accident Insurance N/A N/A Get up to $500,000 if you get hurt or die on a trip
Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance N/A N/A Get reimbursed if your prepaid travel is canceled or interrupted
Trip Delay Insurance N/A N/A Get up to $500 if your trip is delayed
Lost Luggage Reimbursement N/A N/A Get up to $3,000 if your luggage is lost on a trip
Roadside Dispatch Hotline that can help you get help, but you still have to pay for it Hotline that can help you get help, but you still have to pay for it Hotline that can help you get help, but you still have to pay for it
ID Theft Protection ID Navigator from NortonLifeLock  ID Navigator from NortonLifeLock  ID Navigator from NortonLifeLock 
       

Mastercard Options

There are also differences in the benefits offered by the three types of Mastercards:

  Standard Mastercard World World Elite
Temporary Offers N/A Offers like discounts for ride-sharing, food delivery services, and meal kits Same as the World card—offers like discounts for ride-sharing, food delivery services, and meal kits
Free ShopRunner Membership No Yes Yes
Concierge No No Yes
ID Theft Protection Yes Yes Yes
Travel and Emergency Services Hotline Yes Yes Yes
Cellphone Insurance No $1,000 in coverage per year $1,000 in coverage per year
Travel Services No Discounts on golf and experiences Discounts on airport concierge services, hotels, car and RV rentals, and more

Choosing the Best Card For You

Unless you have a strong preference for the benefits of one of these cards over another, it's better to focus more on the terms and rewards that the card issuer offers. That's where cards usually differ the most. 

Whether you're looking for a secured card, a rewards card, a balance transfer card, or a 0% intro APR card, that's what'll make the biggest difference in finding the best card for you.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where is Mastercard accepted vs Visa?

Mastercard is accepted at more than 70 million merchant locations in over 210 countries. Visa is also accepted at more than 70 million merchant locations in over 200 countries. 

Which is most widely accepted—Visa or Mastercard?

Mastercard is accepted in slightly more countries worldwide than Visa.