What are they?
Visa and MasterCard are both used worldwide as methods of making payments. It's important to remember that they are not the names of credit cards themselves, but rather the names of global credit card companies.
Both exist to set rules and standards for the way in which card transactions are accepted, authorised, and processed.
Neither Visa nor MasterCard issue credit cards themselves. Instead they negotiate the setting up of payment systems with different banks and building societies around the globe.
What are the differences?
In the past Visa was accepted more universally than MasterCard, but that is no longer the case. It is now rare to find a location where one is accepted but not the other.
Both claim to be used as methods of payment at around 20 million merchant establishments in more than 150 countries.
Previously there was a more significant gulf in difference between Visa and MasterCard. However, nowadays the differences between the two have narrowed to the point that they are almost indistinguishable, but there are some factors you may want to consider.
Visa claims to have 1.6 billion cards issued, and cardholders have access to about 1.2 million ATMs worldwide. MasterCard avoids direct comparison by stating that they process over 18 billion payments per year.
Visa can offer you protection when shopping online, with their new 'Verified by Visa' scheme. MasterCard by comparison have implemented a new 'SecureCode' scheme, which protects online purchases in a similar manner.
It's optional to sign up for these schemes when you shop online with participating merchants, but doing so adds extra security to purchases and gives you added peace of mind.
They both work by setting you up with a password or secret number which you will be required to enter whenever shopping online.
Both card companies have reward schemes in place, with different offers available for their respective customers. Some credit cardholders may like to carry both a Visa and a MasterCard, in order to take full advantage of the promotions connected with each.
There are slight differences between how much Visa and MasterCard will charge credit card providers (and by extension, you) for foreign currency exchange fees, for example. However, by and large the two are very competitive when it comes to charges.
If you are planning on travelling abroad, it would be advisable to find out whether Visa or MasterCard is more prevalent in the countries you will be visiting.
However, remember that both are global, so it is unlikely you will run into any problems if you favour one over the other.
What else should I consider?
It's worth bearing in mind that neither Visa nor MasterCard set fees or determine interest rates on your card. These are arrived at by the bank or building society who issued your card. As a customer you are unlikely to be affected to a great degree by the negligible differences between the two companies. Therefore it is advisable to pay more attention to what individual credit card providers offer you than whether or not the card is administered by Visa or MasterCard.
When deciding on which credit card to opt for, shop around to find the best deal by provider. Whether or not you prefer Visa or MasterCard, compare the Visa and MasterCard deals on offer to see which would suit you best.
A Visa card or MasterCard issued by one bank will bear little resemblance to those issued by other banks, because it is up to the banks to determine individual criteria associated with your card - such as interest rates, balance transfer rates, and the various terms and conditions. You can read up about Visa and MasterCard online, but ultimately it is more important to consider the bank your card is being issued by.