Which network has the best merchant acceptance – Visa®, Mastercard®, Discover® or American Express®?
March 18, 2019
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If your goal is to maximize your money, using a credit card instead of cash at the register is a smart move. Whether you have a Visa®, Mastercard®, Discover®, or American Express® card, you can earn valuable rewards and even cash back, putting money back in your wallet.
While credit cards are convenient, not all merchants accept all credit cards. Both in the United States and internationally, there may be limitations on what cards you can use.
For domestic transactions
While there are hundreds of credit cards available, there are four core card networks: Visa®, Mastercard®, Discover®, and American Express®. What network your card belong to determines where you can use the card, because not all merchants and retailers accept cards from all four networks.
According to the Nilson Report, a credit card trade journal, Mastercard® and Visa® are tied when it comes to merchant acceptance. As of 2014 — the last available data — 9.5 million merchants accept either card. For Discover®, 9.3 million merchants accept the card, so you shouldn’t have much difficulty using it within the United States.
When it comes to American Express®, it’s a different story. American Express® is only accepted by 6.9 million merchants in the United States, a significant decrease as compared to the other card networks.
When shopping within the United States, you can use your American Express® card to make most purchases. However, it’s a good idea to travel with a Visa® or Mastercard® as a backup in case you end up somewhere where American Express® isn’t accepted.
For international transactions
While data isn’t readily accessible on what countries accept which networks, in general, Visa® and Mastercard® are widely accepted across the globe. If you have a Discover® card or American Express® card, you may find that fewer international merchants accept those cards. It’s a good idea to keep a Visa or Mastercard® handy when traveling to avoid any hiccups.
Choosing a credit card
If you do most of your shopping within the United States, a card from any of the four major networks will work at most retailers. For American Express® — which has the smallest merchant acceptance network — you’ll likely only run into trouble with small businesses, who don’t accept American Express® because of its higher fee structure.
When traveling internationally, sticking with a Visa® or Mastercard® credit card will help you avoid any problems at the register, ensuring your trip goes smoothly.
Need a card to serve as a backup? Consider the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card. With it, you’ll earn 1.5% unlimited cash back on every purchase, every day. There are no rotating spending categories or enrollments needed; just use your card to complete your purchases to earn rewards. As an added perk, you’ll get a one-time $150 cash bonus if you spend $500 within the first three months of opening an account.
If you’d prefer a Mastercard® for domestic and international purchases, check out the HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card. You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and earn an introductory 3% cash back on all purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, up to the first $10,000 in purchases. Plus, you’ll get a 10% anniversary bonus on all of the cash back you earned once a year.
For more information and to find the perfect credit card for you, check out the best credit cards of 2019.