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Visa vs Mastercard – Which is better?

Information verified correct on December 6th, 2016

Visa and Mastercard both offer convenient worldwide access, card security and other perks. But how do they actually compare?

When it comes to choosing a credit card, or even a debit card, Australians usually have the option of a Visa or a Mastercard. These two companies are the major card processing companies used in Australia.

While each Visa or Mastercard credit card is independently issued by a bank or other provider, they also offer a range of features and services to customers across their networks. So if you're trying to decide between these two options, here we compare Visa and Mastercard features side-by-side to see how they match up.

infographic visa vs. mastercard

What are Visa and Mastercard?

Visa and Mastercard provide the technology and networks required for processing card payments. So if you make a payment with a Visa credit card, for example, the transaction will be processed on Visa's network from the merchant to the relevant bank or banks (including your own). Similarly, Mastercard credit card transactions are processed via the Mastercard payment network. These two companies are the largest card processors in the world, with acceptance at millions of merchants all around the world.

Individual banks and other financial institutions issue Visa or Mastercard credit cards based on the payment processing network they want to use. Whichever network is used, the company's logo will be visible on the card. Some issuers even offer both Visa and Mastercard options. In regards to specific card features, such as interest rates, annual fees, rewards programs and introductory offers, it is ultimately the card issuer that decides what will be available on specific cards.

What features and services do Visa and Mastercard offer?

Visa and Mastercard offer a wide range of features and services that banks and other providers can choose to include on their different cards. These include:

  • Contactless payments. Credit cards with Visa payWave or Mastercard PayPass functionality allow you to make payments by simply tapping your card against a compatible reader. You don't even need to enter a PIN if the transaction is worth less than $100, which can speed up the checkout process. For transactions over $100, you can still tap to pay, but will need to verify the purchase with a PIN. Contactless Visa and Mastercard credit cards can also be added to compatible mobile payment services that allow you to use your phone for purchases.
  • Premium cards. Visa and Mastercard both provide a range of standard and premium card options, such as Visa Platinum, Signature and Infinite credit cards, or World Mastercard products. The features available vary based on the credit card provider but could include concierge services, global customer assistance, complimentary insurance and offers and privileges at a range of stores, hotels and restaurants.
  • Exclusive offers. The Visa Entertainment and Mastercard Priceless programs provide exclusive entertainment, dining, travel and shopping offers and experiences to customers with a Visa or Mastercard (respectively). More premium cards may also offer a wider range of discounted services, as well as cruise and holiday packages that are exclusive to cardholders.
  • Global security services. The Visa Global Customer Card and Mastercard Global Service support hotlines provide assistance if your card is lost or stolen, or if you have enquiries about your account. These services are available 24/7 from anywhere in the world.
  • Online shopping protection. Both Visa and Mastercard offer programs that add another layer of security to online card payments. Verified by Visa and Mastercard SecureCode are optional services some providers may offer you when you use your credit card online. When you register for one of these services, you will be prompted to enter a password or unique SMS code when you make purchases at participating online stores.

How can I compare Visa and Mastercard credit cards?

Visa and Mastercard both offer worldwide acceptance and a similar range of features and services. Again, the features available may still depend on the actual card issuer. So rather than only comparing these two companies, it's better to look at specific details for each card you're considering. This could include:

  • Annual fees. Most credit cards charge an annual fee, which could be as low as $25 for a basic card, or upwards of $700 for a premium option. The credit card issuer determines the annual fee based on the features available, with more perks usually equalling a higher cost. For this reason, Visa Platinum, Signature and Infinite cards, as well as World Mastercards, typically have higher fees because of the premium features they provide.
  • Interest rates. Standard credit card interest rates can significantly increase the cost of the card you choose, so it's important to look at both the purchase rate and the cash advance rate for each card you compare. Again, these rates are set by the issuer but tend to be higher for more premium products.
  • Rewards. There is a wide range of Visa and Mastercard credit cards that are linked to rewards programs and frequent flyer programs. These products offer you points per $1 spent on purchases and usually include other additional features as well as higher annual fees than no-frills options. When comparing rewards cards, consider the earn rate, the type of rewards available and your average card spending so that you can decide if the annual fee will be worth it.
  • Dual accounts. Generally, rewards credit cards processed on the American Express payment network offer a more competitive point earn rate than Visa or Mastercard options. As Visa and Mastercard have more extensive networks, though, you can use them in a wider range of locations. As a result of these different features, some card issuers offer accounts that come with both an Amex card and a Visa or Mastercard to help you maximise your rewards.
  • Interest-free days. If you pay your balance in full by the statement due date, most credit cards will offer an interest-free period, such as "up to 44 days interest-free". This feature allows you to make purchases while avoiding interest. It's worth noting interest-free days are not applicable for cash advances, balance transfers or if you don't pay your balance in full by the due date on your statement.
  • Complimentary extras. Credit card providers may offer a range of additional perks, including complimentary insurance, concierge services, airport lounge access and flight vouchers. These benefits can add value to the card you choose if you use them, and vary significantly between products.
  • Introductory offers. Credit card providers regularly offer new customers additional perks for a limited time, such as bonus points, 0% balance transfer interest rates or 0% purchase rates. These features are available for an introductory period and can add short-term value to the card you choose.
  • Security services. In addition to the security services offered by Visa and Mastercard, credit card providers may offer 24/7 fraud-monitoring services, daily transaction limits or even the ability to temporarily lock your card if you have misplaced it. All Australian credit cards are also now chip-and-PIN products, which offer superior security for in-person payments when compared to cards that just have a magnetic strip.
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Other details of Visa and Mastercard

While it's definitely more important to compare individual credit card features when looking for a new card, if you're still interested in the whole Visa vs Mastercard debate, here are some other company details to consider.

The history of Mastercard

Mastercard credit cards were originally developed in the US in 1966. This was during the early days of modern credit and charge cards, and there was huge demand for products that could be used to make payments at a wide range of businesses. This led to the formation of the Interbank Card Association (ICA) and the MasterCharge card.

The Mastercard brand officially came into effect in 1979, as an evolution of this card payment network. It continued to grow as a major credit card brand and officially offered an IPO through the New York Stock Exchange in 2006 (trading as MA). Along with Visa, Mastercard has been at the forefront of credit card technology developments for security and card acceptance, including the implementation of EMV chip credit cards and contactless payments.

The history of Visa

Visa’s history dates back to 1958 when Bank of America launched the BankAmericard. This was the first mass-marketed credit card program and it quickly grew in popularity.

By the 1970s, BankAmericard was an independent entity and went on to take the name Visa. Visa then launched VisaNet, which was the first electronic payment authorisation, clearing, and settlement system in the world. It has continued to grow as a card payment processor since then and, like Mastercard, has been at the forefront of technologies including chip cards and contactless payments.

How do Visa and Mastercard make money?

Visa and Mastercard's profits primarily come from the entities that use their services, such as banks and merchants. Some of their sources of revenue include:

  • Card issuer fees. Both Mastercard and Visa charge financial institutions service fees for the use of their payment systems.
  • Bank settlement fees. Credit card issuers pay this fee at the time of settlement of payments.
  • Overseas fees. These companies charge issuers a fee for processing payments made in a foreign currency. These charges are often passed on to credit card customers in the form of a foreign currency or international transaction fee.
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Visa and Mastercard compared

Size of companiesVisaMasterCard
Market capitalisation (value)1US$194.65 billionUS$110.74 billion
Employees11,300+210,000+3
Number of cards in circulation2.1 billion1.2 billion4
Value of transactions per yearUS$6.5 trillionUS$3.6 trillion5
Winner?Visa

The details above show that Visa is by far the bigger company. However, in recent years, Mastercard has substantially increased its market share, bridging the gap between these two credit card giants.

Card acceptanceVisaMasterCard
Number of countries200+200+
Number of merchants537 million (approx.)37 million (approx.)
Number of ATMsMore than 2 million6More than 1 million7
Winner?A tieA tie

1 At October 2016 reported by Reuters 2 United States Securities and Exchange Commission, 2015 3 Mastercard on LinkedIn 4 Forbes, 19 June 2013 5 Digital Transactions, 4 November 2015 6 Visa website (October 2016) 7 Mastercard Global ATM Locator (October 2016)

In terms of card acceptance, the table above shows that the two schemes are roughly tied. Although Visa boasts a wider ATM network than Mastercard, neither of them state a specific number of ATMs and acceptance may also depend on your card issuer. As these details are also published online with no date to them it's difficult to gauge how accurate they are, so we've called it a draw. As always, when choosing a card, make sure to weigh up all of its fees, features and benefits rather than just looking at which one is a Visa or Mastercard.

ANZ First Visa Credit Card

ANZ First Visa Credit Card Offer

The ANZ First Visa Credit Card features interest-free days and complimentary warranty insurance with a low annual fee.

  • $30 p.a. annual fee
  • 19.74% p.a. on purchases
  • 0% p.a. for 18 months with 3% balance transfer fee on balance transfers
  • Cash Advance Rate of 21.49% p.a.
  • Up to 44 days interest free
  • Minimum Income Requirement of $15,000 p.a.
Rates last updated December 6th, 2016
Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Annual fee
HSBC Platinum Credit Card
Receive a full annual fee refund and save $149 if you meet the $6,000 spend requirement. Enjoy a balance transfer offer and platinum card benefits such as complimentary insurances and concierge services.
19.99% p.a. 0% p.a. for 15 months $149 p.a. Go to site More info
NAB Qantas Rewards Premium Card - Exclusive Offer
Get 75,000 bonus Qantas Points plus enjoy a low promotional offer of 4.99% p.a. for 6 months on balance transfers.
19.99% p.a. 4.99% p.a. for 6 months $250 p.a. Go to site More info
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Balance Transfer Offer
Offering 0% p.a. interest rate on balance transfers for 18 months. Earn bonus Velocity Points in the first 3 months.
20.74% p.a. 0% p.a. for 18 months $64 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter) Go to site More info
NAB Low Rate Credit Card
The NAB Low Rate Card offers 0% p.a. on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. This card also comes with a low annual fee.
0% p.a. for 15 months (reverts to 13.99% p.a.) 0% p.a. for 15 months with a one off 3% balance transfer fee $59 p.a. Go to site More info
St.George Vertigo Visa
Introductory offer of 0% p.a. for 18 months on balance transfers and 1% p.a. for 12 months on purchases, plus a low annual fee.
1% p.a. for 12 months (reverts to 13.24% p.a.) 0% p.a. for 18 months $55 p.a. Go to site More info
Rates last updated December 6th, 2016
Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Annual fee
ME Bank frank Credit Card
A low rate credit card that doesn't charge an annual fee.
11.99% p.a. $0 p.a. Go to site More info
ANZ Low Rate
$100 Back plus 0% p.a. for the first 6 months on purchases from approval.
0% p.a. for 6 months (reverts to 13.49% p.a.) $58 p.a. Go to site More info
Emirates Citi World MasterCard
Receive 40,000 bonus points and enjoy up to 10% off Emirates flights when you meet the spend requirement. Also pay a reduced annual fee for the first year.
20.99% p.a. 0% p.a. for 9 months $149 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($299 p.a. thereafter) Go to site More info

While there are differences between Mastercard and Visa on a corporate level, the variations are relatively minor when it comes to using a credit card processed by one of these two companies. In general, you're better off focusing on features such as the interest rate, annual fee and complimentary extras available when comparing credit cards so that you can find one that suits your needs.

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Frequently asked questions

Which is a bigger company in terms of market capitalisation and employees, Visa or Mastercard?

Visa is the larger of these two companies as of October 2016, with 12-month market capitalisation of US$194.65 billion and 11,300 employees. In comparison, Mastercard has market capitalisation of US$110.74 billion and over 10,000 employees.

In how many countries can I use Visa and Mastercard?

Both cards find acceptance in over 200 countries and territories around the world.

Do I have to meet any eligibility criteria to get a Mastercard or Visa credit card?

Yes. Eligibility requirements vary based on the credit card issuer, but generally include the following:

  • You must be over 18 years of age
  • You must be a permanent Australian resident or an Australian citizen
  • You must have a good credit history

You might also have to meet minimum income requirements, depending on the card.

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2 Responses to Visa vs Mastercard – Which is better?

  1. Default Gravatar
    Yau | September 18, 2012

    What is the difference between visa card and master card?

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