Q&A: Are All Credit Card Brands Equal?

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Q: Our daughter is off to college and we’re giving her a credit card for the first time. We’re long-time Visa users, but for our daughter’s purposes, is Visa a better option than MasterCard? — M. Moran, Boca Raton, Fla.

A: There are no significant differences between Visa (Stock Quote: V) and MasterCard (Stock Quote: M), unless your daughter plans to spend some of her college days overseas, where retailers in different countries can prefer one card over another. For example, in the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Visa was the only credit card accepted for events and licensed souvenirs.

Back here in the states, your daughter might as well flip a coin. While virtually all retailers accept both MasterCard and Visa, some big stores accept one but not the other.

For example, The Dollar Store accepts Visa, but not MasterCard. But warehouse grocery giant Sam’s Club (Stock Quote: WMT) accepts MasterCard but not Visa credit cards (Sam’s Club does accept Visa bank debit cards).

InternetRetailer.com recently released a study on credit card acceptance, and found that both Visa and MasterCard were widely accepted by most businesses.

According to the survey:

  • 72% of online retailers accept all four major credit cards (American Express (Stock Quote: AXP), Discover (Stock Quote: DFS), MasterCard and Visa).
  • 10.3% of online retailers accept American Express, MasterCard and Visa.
  • 7.7% of online retailers accept Discover, MasterCard and Visa.
  • 9.9% of online retailers accept Visa and MasterCard only.

Rather than focus on card acceptance, your best move is to find a credit card with the best interest rate, lowest fees and the best cash-back or rewards program. Chances are your daughter isn’t going to be at the Olympics anytime soon, and won’t be spending a lot of time in Sam’s Club or The Dollar Store, so the primary decision drivers are financial ones.

For help, turn to BankingMyWay’s Credit Card Search engine, and toggle down to “Student Credit Cards” for credit card deals geared specifically toward college students like your daughter.

While there are plenty of cards to choose from, here’s a good rule of thumb: focus more on the deal than on the brand.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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