Browse BestCards.com's Directory of Card Issuers
Credit card issuers are the financial institutions responsible for flashy credit cards sitting in your wallet and all the impressive rewards they offer.
There are thousands of card issuers throughout the world. These types of institutions include banks (such as Bank of America, Barclays, Chase, U.S. Bank, or Wells Fargo), credit unions (such as Federal Credit Union, Golden 1, Gulf Coast Credit Union, and countless others), and other types of lenders (such as Capital One or Discover). Card issuers often range widely in size, from local credit unions to multinational banks.
Card issuers handle virtually all aspects of the credit card life cycle, including the approval (or denial) or credit card applications, establishment of terms and conditions, and determining the fees, signup bonuses, and rewards structures. Aside from being responsible for issuing the card, card issuers handle customer-facing issues such as collecting payments and providing customer service.
Card issuers work closely with credit card payment networks like Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover – the intermediaries to facilitate payment between bank and merchant – but they are not the same thing. Payment networks receive compensation from the credit card company for using their services.
Who are the Top Credit Card Issuers in the U.S.?
Which banks and lenders issue the most credit cards in the U.S.?
Credit Card Issuers vs Credit Card Networks
Credit card issuers are the banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions that offer credit card accounts and issue credit cards. These issuers are usually prominently displayed on the top of the credit card. Beyond the top credit card issuers, there are thousands of medium-to-smaller issuers across the United States. In contrast, there are only four major credit card networks.
What is a Credit Card Network?
A credit card network is also known as a payment network. This network is a facilitator of the transaction for credit card issuers. What this means is that they act as a network that allows the issuer’s credit cards to have broader acceptance worldwide.
There are four main Credit card networks worldwide. These top networks are:
Visa is by far the largest payment network, with Mastercard a close second. Both of these networks are accepted at tens of millions of locations worldwide, meaning if your credit card features a Visa or Mastercard logo, chances are your credit card will work fine.
American and Express and Discover have excellent acceptance in North America, but users may face obstacles when using their credit cards with those logos overseas. These issues arise from increased payment fees for merchants accepting those cards, but this is becoming less of a problem. Still, while more and more global merchants are beginning to accept both Discover and Amex Cards, they are significantly less popular than both Visa and MasterCard.
American Express and Discover are also unique in that they are payment networks and credit card issuers. While both systems also feature credit cards from other issuers, they also provide their own credit card products.
The Four Major Payment Networks
|Visa is the largest payment network in the world. According to Nilson, there are more than 336 million Visa credit cards in circulation – over 100 million more than the next largest, Mastercard. The Visa network is currently accepted in more than 170 countries around the world. This near-global acceptance means that if your credit card has the Visa logo, chances are you’ll be able to use it for purchases anywhere your travels take you.
|Globally, there are over 230 million Mastercards in circulation, making it the second most popular payment network by volume. While Visa is accepted in 170 countries worldwide, Mastercard claims that users can find merchants that accept their payment network in 210 countries. Even though 210 is more than 170 (we did the math), the general rule of thumb is that any place that accepts a Mastercard will most likely accept Visa, and vice versa.
|American Express (also known as Amex) is the third-largest payment network in the United States and the fourth largest globally. Approximately 10% of all U.S. credit cards feature an Amex logo – far lower than Visa or Mastercard. Amex issues personal and business credit cards, as well as prepaid debit cards. Interestingly, while American Express has fewer cardholders than Visa or Mastercard, the brand has a higher purchasing volume than the other two. Perhaps that’s why cards from American Express continue to attract attention and new accounts.
|Most people know Discover for their exceptional customer service and as a leading credit card issuer. After all, Discover credit cards are some of the most popular rewards cards in the industry. Most Discover credit cards are issued by Discover itself, much in the same way that Amex issues its own credit and charge cards. What most people forget, however, is that Discover is also a payment network. Like Mastercard and Visa, Discover is a processing network – as seen by the Discover financial services logo in the bottom corner of all their card products.