In the current world, credit cards have become a backbone for many financial transactions because they offer convenience, security, and sometimes rewards. Whether you are looking to build your credit score, enjoy loyalty programs, or even travel the world, choosing the right credit card provider is among the most critical decisions you can make. In this guide, we identify the top credit card providers and walk you through everything you need to know about these cards to help you make informed choices that align with your financial goals and lifestyle.
Credit Card Network vs. Issuer
On the other hand, credit card networks refer to payment processing platforms that allow financial transactions between merchants, banks, and cardholders. Some of the most popular networks include Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. Interestingly, some networks, such as Amex and Discover, also issue credit cards. Understanding this difference is critical because it lets you know where to use your card and the perks you can enjoy.
Credit Card Networks Explained
As indicated, Credit Card Networks are the payment processing platforms that deal with the card's infrastructure and where they are accepted. There are two types of networks: open and closed. An open network allows various financial institutions to issue their credit cards to users; the two most prominent open credit card networks are Visa and Mastercard. Conversely, a closed network exclusively gives its own payment cards. In this case, the network also acts as the issuer; some of the most common closed networks include American Express, Discover, and some store-issued cards.
Credit Card Networks work by connecting card issuers and businesses. When a customer initiates a transaction at a point of sale terminal, they swipe or insert the card’s EMV chip, and their financial information is transmitted. Subsequently, the payment processor contacts the credit card networks for approval. If it’s a closed network, they will determine whether the transaction will be approved. If it is an open network, they talk to the issuing institution, which then determines if the operation should be processed.
Market Share by Credit Card Networks
As indicated, the four major credit card networks are Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express. A recent study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that there are over 1.09 billion credit cards in circulation in the USA alone. Most of these cardholders belong to the four major networks.
As of 2021, Visa had the largest market share, averaging at approximately 48%. Over 753 million Visa credit cards were circulated during that year. Following closely was Mastercard, with a market share of 36%. Discover and Amex accounted for 8% and 7.5% of the market share, respectively. According to the CFPB, there have been minimal changes since then. As more people continue applying for credit cards, these four networks dominate the industry.
Credit Card Networks Compared
When choosing a credit card network, you must evaluate various factors such as the interest rate, cashback potential, and reward programs. Whether your card is backed by Visa, Amex, Discover, or Mastercard, there are certain implications that you should be aware of. Generally, Amex and Discover are the only networks that issue cards, while Visa and Mastercard credit cards are always linked to an issuing financial institution.
Of the four networks, Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted by both merchants and individual consumers. They are acceptable in over 100 countries, mainly because of their versatile nature and flexibility in banking options. Conversely, American Express cards are not as popular because they charge a higher fee than others. When it comes to eligibility, Amex is a bit stringent as it requires applicants to have a minimum credit score of 670. Although this network offers credit cards for people with a lower credit score, these usually come with fewer perks. The Discover card is more accepted than American Express because it has lower fees and attractive cashback reward features.
Credit Card Ratings
The 2023 J.D. Power U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study found that credit card debt has substantially increased following the pandemic. However, some cards remain popular among various demographics. The following table summarises the 2023 credit card ratings according to J.D Power:
What are Credit Card Issuers
If you have ever applied for a credit card, then you have certainly interacted with an issuer. Essentially, issuers are the financial institutions that offer loans in the form of credit cards. When you apply for a card, the issuer assesses your eligibility and creditworthiness by reviewing your credit history and credit score. Credit scores determine your card’s limit as well as the interest rate associated with it. If the issuer accepts your application, you will sign an agreement highlighting various terms, including fees, rewards, annual percentage rates, and the cardholder’s rights. They will typically send you monthly statements that include all your card activity, such as transactions, account notifications, and available credit.
⭐ Top 10 Credit Card Companies
Like most things, credit card companies come in all shapes and sizes. Some providers dominate the industry with millions of customers across the globe, while others lack brand recognition outside of a handful of customers. Below is our list of the top 10 credit card companies in 2023:
- American Express
- Bank of America
- Capital One
- U.S Bank
Market Share by Credit Card Providers
According to the New York Federal Reserve, the top 10 credit card issuers hold approximately 82% of card balances. As of 2021, Chase had the highest market share of about 17.9%, followed closely by Amex and Citi with 13.3% and 12.4% respectively. The 2021 Nilson report ranked issuers by their market share in the following order:
- Chase with 17.9%
- American Express with 13.3%
- Citi with 12.4%
- Capital One with 11.4%
- Bank of America with 10.8%
- U.S. Bank with 4.5%
- Wells Fargo with 3.8%
- Barclays with 2.6%
- Synchrony with 2.4%
- Navy FCU with 2.3%
Overview of Major Credit Card Providers
The credit card sector is a trillion-dollar industry, with approximately 5 trillion dollars transacted yearly in the U.S. alone. According to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report, over 175 million Americans have at least one credit card; a substantial percentage carry more than one. As a result, there is an array of card providers to choose from, all with different benefits. Here is our list of the major credit card providers in the market right now:
Often referred to as Amex, American Express is one of the leading payment platforms in the world. They operate both as credit card issuers and networks. You can redeem your Amex points for premium benefits such as airport lounge access, annual travel credits, and generous reward programs. These cards cater to food enthusiasts, travellers, and people seeking luxury perks.
Bank of America
Bank of America is one the largest financial institutions in the U.S., offering various credit cards for various needs. This bank is very popular and provides card services to over 68 million users. If you are looking for cashback rewards, travel rewards, student cards, and even cards for building or rebuilding credit, this provider is the best for you.
Barclays offers credit card services across the world. They have both physical and online branches as well as a myriad of credit card options for their consumers. Their portfolio includes co-branded cards such as the JetBlue Card and the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard and cards under the Barclays brand.
Founded in 1994, Capital One is famous for its straightforward reward cards without any annual fees. It is among the largest issuers of Visa and Mastercard credit cards, and it offers services to both businesses and individual users. With this card provider, you can access various cards, including cashback cards, travel reward cards, and cards for users with average credit.
Chase is a powerhouse in the credit card industry with the largest credit card portfolio and over 4700 physical branches in the U.S. Apart from their popular cards, they are known for other financial products such as auto loans, home loans, and checking and savings accounts. They have partnered with various airlines and hotels, making their travel reward program highly attractive to globetrotters.
Founded in 1812, Citibank has the third-largest credit card portfolio globally. Whether you are interested in cashback rewards, travel points, or balance transfer offers, Citi has options for you. In addition, if you are looking for a high-yield savings account and wealth management service, this bank is one of the best options to consider.
As indicated earlier, Discover is both a credit card issuer and a credit card network. With this provider, you can get business and personal credit cards, personal, student, and home loans and other online banking products. One of the most unique features of Discover is that customers can pre-qualify for all Discover card products with no hard inquiry on their credit reports. Their cards often feature no annual fees and bonus cashback categories that change quarterly.
PNC Bank offers a variety of credit cards that are affordable and easy to use. One of their most unique features is that you can get multiple cards without any annual fee and zero introductory APR. In addition, the bank travelleroffers various resources for financial education and exceptional customer service to ensure cardholders have reliable support. Whether you're a student building credit, a traveler seeking rewards, or someone looking to manage existing debt responsibly, PNC offers a comprehensive suite of options.
Dating back to 1932, Synchrony specializes in co-branded credit cards by partnering with retailers to offer store credit. Usually, their cards come with exclusive discounts and financing offers for various retail purchases. They have partnered with popular brands such as Paypal, Ashley Homestore, Gap, Sam’s Club, Amazon, Walgreens, and Verizon. With a Synchrony credit card, you can pay off your purchases over a certain period while still earning rewards for the products bought.
USAA caters to military members and their families, offering credit cards with military-specific benefits. These cards offer low annual percentage fees, military base, and gas rewards, as well as flat-rate cash back on all purchases. With USAA credit cards, you can redeem their reward points for cash, cruise and airline travel, merchandise, gift cards, or even charitable contributions. The good news is that your points will never expire if your account remains open and in good standing.
With over 2000 branches across the United States, U.S. Bank offers a variety of credit card options, including the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card. Their cards are available for various credit profiles, making them accessible to a wide audience. While not as popular as Amex and Chase credit cards, U.S. bank cards offer exceptional cashback and travel rewards.
Wells Fargo is among the most popular brands focusing on consumer finance. They offer a variety of credit cards for both businesses and individual consumers. Wells Fargo is relatively new to the credit card industry but is well known for other benefits, such as mortgage and car loans.
The Best U.K. Credit Card Providers
If you are based in the U.K., you can access a pool of credit card providers with different terms and perks. Major banks like Barclays and Tesco provide reliable and diverse options, while retailers partner with providers to offer co-branded cards with exclusive benefits. On the other hand, specialist providers focus on specific purposes, such as credit building or travel, and banking while credit unions offer community-centric alternatives and ethical and green cards that align with environmentally conscious values. With the rise of online bankingt, the U.K. credit card landscape is dynamic, ensuring that consumers have a multitude of choices to suit their financial goals and preferences. Some of the most popular U.K. card providers include:
First Direct is a standout player in the U.K. credit card market and is famous for its commitment to exceptional customer service and straightforward financial products. The bank offers an outstanding experience with 24/7 customer support, allowing them to resolve customer inquiries promptly. Its credit cards are simple and easy to use, with competitive fee structures and interest rates. The bank offers financial products that cater to a wide range of customer needs, making it an excellent choice for individuals seeking a reliable credit card with a straightforward approach. In addition to competitive interest rates, First Direct offers cashback and rewards on their credit cards.
John Lewis Finance
John Lewis Finance is closely associated with the prestigious John Lewis department stores and is the major credit card provider in the U.K. Among the best features of John Lewis Finance credit cards is the access to exclusive discounts and rewards when shopping at John Lewis stores or making online purchases. Their credit cards are perfect if you want a good shopping experience and significant savings. This provider also offers a rewarding loyalty program where cardholders can redeem their points for future discounts or shopping vouchers at John Lewis. Their credit cards also offer a unique value proposition for customers seeking a seamless blend of premium retail experiences and financial benefits.
Tesco Bank is a prominent and customer-focused credit card provider in the U.K., known for catering to shoppers and its versatile credit card options. Tesco Bank's flagship feature is its Tesco Clubcard points system, where cardholders earn points on their purchases, allowing them to save on groceries, fuel, and more at Tesco stores. It offers competitive balance transfer deals, which can be highly advantageous for customers looking to consolidate and manage their existing credit card debt. Tesco Bank also has a variety of card options, often with low or zero-interest periods. Whether you're a frequent shopper at Tesco looking to maximize your rewards or seeking a reliable balance transfer option, Tesco Bank's credit cards provide flexible solutions.
Smaller Credit Card Providers
Although traditional banks and major corporations dominate the credit card market, smaller banks and credit unions also offer credit cards with various benefits. Generally, small institutions often take a more personalised approach to customer service and provide exceptional benefits. Here are two types of smaller credit card providers to explore:
Smaller banks or those relatively new to the industry may offer cards with competitive interest rates and an alluring rewards program. If you are looking for banks that focus more on the community and customer needs, this may be a good option to consider for your credit card application.
Credit unions are non-profit financial institutions typically owned by members instead of shareholders. They usually offer lower interest rates, fees, and a close-knit community feel. If you are looking to support local financial institutions, this is an excellent credit card provider. Popular credit unions include Alliant Credit Union, Digital Federal Credit Union, and Navy Federal Credit Union.
From this article, these are some of the key takeaways that you should consider before proceeding to make a credit card application:
Credit card issuers are the institutions that give you a credit card, while Credit Card Networks are the payment processing platforms.
When applying for a new credit card, you should look for issuers that offer low interest rates, good rewards programs, excellent customer service, and a range of card options.
You should evaluate your spending habits and lifestyle to determine the best credit card network for your needs.
Whether you’re after travel perks, cashback rewards, or simply building your credit rating, there’s a credit card provider and a card for you.
Take your time to research, compare, and select the one that best meets your financial goals.