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Visa or MasterCard: Which Credit Card Should You Apply For?
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Visa or MasterCard: Which Credit Card Should You Apply For?

Should you get Visa or MasterCard? Is one of them better than the other? Will one of them help your credit rating more than the other? Many people ask themselves these types of questions when they think about getting their first credit card or additional ones. The fact is, few differences exist between the two credit card brands today, but you can benefit by having a better understanding of the two companies and using their competition to your advantage.

Just Who Are Visa and MasterCard

First, you should know that neither Visa nor MasterCard actually issue credit cards themselves. Neither company deals with consumers or merchants directly. Instead, they create and run the worldwide computer networks that process the billions of transactions that occur each day from people who use their credit cards at millions of merchants and ATMs. Both companies make their money from financial institutions to whom they license the ability to market the MasterCard or Visa system to consumers and merchants.

MasterCard and Visa have been fierce competitors for years, each vying to be faster and more global than the other, just like Hertz and Avis, and McDonalds and Burger King. Each time one brand creates a new twist on their credit cards, the other soon follows to match it. Both companies now offer nearly identical benefits, such as travel insurance, car rental insurance, product warranty extensions, and so on.

Furthermore, both cards are accepted worldwide by nearly the same number of merchants. MasterCard says its cards can be used at more than 23 million locations around the globe, including 1 million ATMs and other locations where cash can be obtained. Visa says its cards are accepted at more than twenty million locations in more than 150 countries.

In general, most merchants throughout the world accept both cards, or if a merchant takes only one of the brands, another merchant down the block takes the other. The point is, your chances of being locked out of eating or buying a gift or getting a hotel room because you have only one brand of credit card are usually minimal -- other than at a few noted events where one card or the other may have negotiated to be the sole credit card to be accepted. But such instances are far and few between.

Which Card is Right for You?

Given the above, is one card better or more right for you? The best answer depends on whether it’s your first, second, or additional card, as follows:

If You’re Applying for Your FIRST Credit Card

In this situation, you can make a choice based simply on selecting which issuing bank you prefer to work with, or which promotional offer you like the most, without regard to the brand on the card. Perhaps you like Chase or Citibank or HSBC, or perhaps you like the 0% APR with no-annual-fee offer you found online. It's six of one, a half-dozen of the other.

If You’re Applying for Your SECOND Card

In this situation, it is strategically smart to select the opposite brand card from your first card AND to choose a different issuing bank. The rationale for this is that when you have two different cards, you will find that the two banks will compete for your business (assuming you maintain good credit). You will get offers for 0% balance transfers, higher credit limits, and other perks as the two banks vie for your increased use of their card. And just in case you find a merchant who only takes one brand of card, you can now be assured of having all your bases covered.

If You’re Applying for ADDITIONAL Credit Cards

Many people apply for more than two credit cards because something specific motivates them to get a third or a fourth card. You may want a separate card to use for your business charges, or to compliment your airline frequent flyer program. In these cases, your selection is largely predetermined by whichever card has attracted your attention to fulfill your specific needs. You might even shop around among issuing banks to be sure you find the best offer, no matter which credit card brand stands behind it.

In short, choosing between Visa and MasterCard is no longer a frustrating question for anyone applying for a first credit card. You can’t go wrong with either brand. And if you already have a first credit card, it can be a very smart move to apply to get a second card from the other brand. If you treat your credit well, you’ll soon be having two (or more) banks begging for your business -- and that's a good thing!

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