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Visa, MasterCard and the rest -- What's the difference?

By Chesutiko

Visa, MasterCard and American Express are commonly used worldwide, but which is the best for you? With so many credit cards accepted all over the world, sometimes it's hard to know which ones to sign up for.

To start with, understand that Visa, MasterCard, American Express and other credit card companies don't actually issue credit cards, they only make their money by charging fees to the banks that issue them. Interest rates, reward programs and other benefits will not differ greatly between Visa, MasterCard or American Express, as these and other bonuses are managed by financial institutions.

Which cards should I have if I intend to travel overseas?
If you're thinking of visiting Canada, for example, your best bet is to go with MasterCard, as it is more commonly accepted there than Visa. If you're not sure what cards are the most widely accepted in other parts of the world that you intend to visit, it may be a good idea to have all three credit cards. While there is still a great deal of debate as to which is the most commonly accepted credit card worldwide, Visa and MasterCard still seem to be more prominent than American Express. Since issuing banks offer many different types of Visa and MasterCard to suit a variety of needs, it is a good idea to read through the literature carefully and pick out the ones that suit your lifestyle and travel plans best.

What do I do if none of my cards work?
You may travel to a country where your Visa or MasterCard is not accepted, though that is more likely to occur if you're in Asia, Africa or South America. If you are worried about this eventuality, it would be wise to plan ahead. For starters, always carry enough cash to last you for a few days, just in case. That said, if you are attending a large global sporting event such as the Olympic Games, Visa is probably the best option. During some Olympic Games, Visa has been the only credit card to be accepted.

Overall, what is my best option?
Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards in the world; American Express is still catching up. So, if you find yourself overseas often, you're going to want to get yourself a Visa and a MasterCard, just to be safe. As for which type of Visa and MasterCard you will want, your best options will be those that suit as many of your needs as possible. Do your research and even consult a financial adviser before making your decision.

Article by Chesutiko

Updated: June 4, 2009

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