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Updated: May 01, 2023

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Man looking at his credit card

Visa or Mastercard? What are the key differences?

Zivica Kerkez / Shutterstock

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Updated: May 01, 2023

We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Please be aware that some (or all) products and services linked in this article are from our sponsors.

We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Please be aware this post may contain links to products from our partners. We may receive a commission for products or services you sign up for through partner links.

Credit cards can be valuable contributors toward your financial health but picking the right one can get tricky. If you’re trying to decide between Visa or Mastercard, know that they are nearly identical and the real differences are the individual benefits that come with specific cards. That being said, it’s worth knowing what the minor differences are between Visa or Mastercard before you choose the card that’s right for you.

Processing networks and card issuing partners

The first thing to note is that neither Visa nor Mastercard actually issue any credit cards to consumers. Visa and Mastercard are credit card processing networks. As networks, they control where credit cards can be accepted and they process payments between merchants and credit card issuers.

Visa and Mastercard partner with banks and retailers to issue credit cards. Credit card issuers back the card financially and set the terms and conditions including annual fees, interest rates, and late fees. Issuers also define the benefits such as cash back or rewards points. Some banks use an exclusive credit card processing network as their partner while others have multiple partnerships:

Scotiabank Value® Visa* Card

Quick Facts

Who’s eligible?
– Minimum credit score: Good
– Age: Age of majority in province or territory where you live
– Residency: Canadian citizen or permanent resident
– Other: No bankruptcies in the past seven years

Scotiabank uses Visa, Mastercard, and American Express as their credit card processing networks. One of their most popular Visa cards is the Scotiabank Value® Visa* Card because of its balance transfer feature: Cardholders pay 0% introductory interest rate on Cash Advances, including Balance Transfers, for the first 6 months (12.99% after that; annual fee $29).Âą Plus no annual fee in the first year.Âą Offer ends October 31, 2023. Once this promotional period ends, the balance transfer rate goes up to 12.99%, which is still lower than the industry average of 19.99%. The 12.99% interest rate also applies to purchases as well. The Scotiabank Value® Visa* Card has an annual fee of $29, but cardholders can potentially save far more than that in reduced interest payments in a given year.

Âą Conditions Apply. Visit here for the Scotiabank Value® Visa* Card to learn more.

BMO AIR MILES®† Mastercard®*

Quick Facts

Who’s eligible?
– Minimum credit score: Good
– Minimum income: $15,000
– Age: Age of majority in your province or territory
– Residency: Resident of Canada

BMO now offers credit cards processed by both Mastercard and Visa. One Mastercard from BMO that travellers should consider is the BMO AIR MILES®† Mastercard®*, which gives cardholders 800 Air Miles* (when you spend $1,000 within first three months). Cardholders also get 3x the Miles for every $25 spent at participating AIR MILES Partners and 2x the Miles for every $25 spent at any eligible grocery store*. Get 1 Mile for every $25 spent everywhere else*

*Terms and conditions apply

How widely are Visa and Mastercard credit cards accepted?

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted around the world. Visa is accepted at over 28 million merchants across 200 countries with cash advances available through the Plus ATM network. Mastercard is accepted at over 30 million merchants across 210 countries with cash advances available through the Cirrus ATM network.

While a majority of merchants worldwide will accept both Visa and Mastercard, some retailers will work exclusively with one payment network or the other. For example, Costco stores in Canada offer their own co-branded Mastercard and only accept credit payments on the Mastercard network. To be clear, it’s the merchant who decides which types of credit cards they’ll accept for payment. That being said, if you have a specific Visa or Mastercard, it may benefit you to use that card at certain locations.

PC Financial® World Elite Mastercard®

Quick Facts

Who’s eligible?
– Minimum annual income: $80,000 personal or $150,000 household
– Age: Age of majority in your province or territory
– Residency: Resident of Canada
– Annual fees: $0

Grocery giant Loblaws owns PC Bank, which issues the PC Financial® World Elite Mastercard®. With this card you earn 30 PC Optimum™ points per dollar spent at Loblaw banner stores (like Loblaws or No Frills); 45 points per dollar spent at Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix; and 30 points per litre at Esso™ and Mobil™ stations in Canada. Loblaws discount grocery stores (such as No Frills) only accept Mastercard, whereas their higher end stores accept both Visa and Mastercard. It may make sense to choose Mastercard over Visa depending on where you regularly shop.

Types of Visa and Mastercard credit cards

Both Mastercard and Visa offer different tiers of service. Visa offers Classic, Infinite, and Infinite Privilege levels while Mastercard offers Classic, World, and World Elite. All levels within both networks provide zero liability protection against fraud.

The Classic service level for both Visa and Mastercard usually don’t have a minimum income requirement for you to qualify for the card. If you’re applying for a Visa Infinite or World Mastercard, you’ll typically need a minimum annual income of at least $60,000 (or a combined household income of at least $100,000). World Elite Mastercards typically require an individual annual income of at least $80,000 (or a combined household annual income of $150,000).

Visa Infinite and World Elite Mastercard include all the perks from lower tiers but also include a suite of premium benefits designed to appeal to high-income consumers.

Despite these different card classifications, in the end, the credit card issuers decide how they’re going to label their credit cards. The only thing that Visa and Mastercard insist on is the minimum income requirement. E.g. if a credit card issuer is going to brand a card World Elite, then applicants must have an individual annual income of at least $80,000.

Rogers™ World Elite® Mastercard®

Quick Facts

Who’s eligible?
– Minimum credit score: Good-Excellent
– Minimum income: $80,000 individual or $150,000 household
– Age: Age of majority in province of residence
– Residency: Canadian
– Other: No bankruptcies in the past seven years

The Rogers™ World Elite® Mastercard® does not have as many benefits and features compared to World Elite cards from other issuers, but Rogers has decided to give the card the World Elite title since it’s their best credit card. With the card you pay the 2.5% foreign transaction fee when making purchases abroad, but since you get 3% cash back on all U.S. dollar purchases, you can actually come out ahead by 0.5% when you use the car in the States. Plus there’s no annual fee.

Scotia Momentum® Visa Infinite* Card

Quick Facts

Who’s eligible?
– Minimum credit score: Excellent
– Minimum income: Meet a minimum annual income of $60,000 or a minimum household income of $100,000 or minimum assets under management of $250,000
– Age: 18+/Age of majority in province
– Residency: Canadian Citizen/Permanent Resident
– Other: No bankruptcies in the past seven years

The Scotia Momentum® Visa Infinite* card is one of Scotiabank’s top Visa cards and comes packed with a ton of benefits, making it worthy of the Infinite moniker. Cardholders earn 4% cash back on grocery store purchases, recurring bill payments, and subscription purchases and 2% cash back on gas and daily transit. All other purchases earn 1% cash back with no cash back limit. You also get a comprehensive travel insurance package which helps justify the $120 annual fee.

For New Cardholders: Earn 10% cash back on all purchases for the first 3 months (up to $2,000 in total purchases).Âą No annual fee in the first year, including on supplementary cards.Âą Offer ends June 30, 2023.

Âą Conditions Apply. Visit here for the Scotia Momentum® Visa Infinite* Card to learn more.

Visa vs Mastercard: Bonuses and benefits

Generally speaking, Visa and Mastercard have similar benefits when comparing the Infinite and World Elite lines. Both come with extended warranty & purchase protection, concierge service, offers from hotels & retailers, dining experiences, and travel insurance.

But some Mastercards have one noticeable benefit over Visa: Complimentary membership to Mastercard Travel Pass provided by DragonPass. These Mastercards allow access to over 1,300 airport lounges, with some cards providing free individual lounge access passes and others allowing access for a per-visit fee.

Any additional benefits such as the sign up bonus, earnings rate, suite of travel insurance, etc. are determined by the credit card issuer and vary by card.

BMO Ascend™ World Elite®* Mastercard®*

Quick Facts

Who’s eligible?
– Minimum credit score: Excellent
– Minimum income: $80,000 individual or $150,000 household
– Age: Age of majority in your province or territory
– Residency: Canadian

You can now get complimentary membership in Mastercard Travel Pass provided by DragonPass,* with four annual complimentary passes with your BMO Ascend™ World Elite®* Mastercard®*. This is one of the best travel credit cards in Canada, with total lounge access valued at $128 USD each year, and a sign up bonus of up to 60,000* points. Add in its annual fee waiver worth $150 (and $50 waived for first authorized user as well)*, and just the bonuses alone are worth about $762*. Comprehensive travel insurance and a fast rate of earning BMO Rewards points are just the cherries on top.

*Terms and conditions apply

Scotiabank Passport® Visa Infinite* Card

Quick Facts

Who’s eligible?
– Minimum credit score: Excellent
– Minimum income: Minimum annual income of $60,000 or a minimum household income of $100,000 or minimum assets under management of $250,000
– Age: Age of majority in your province or territory
– Residency: Canadian citizen or permanent resident
– Other: No bankruptcies in the past seven years

Though Visa itself doesn’t have a partnership when it comes to lounge access, Scotiabank does, and its Scotiabank Passport® Visa Infinite* Card provides six free airport lounge passes annually through complimentary Visa Airport Companion Program membership. The card has an annual fee of $150, but the lounge membership and passes are worth more than that alone. As added benefits the card does not charge foreign transaction fees and also provides a comprehensive travel insurance package.

Earn up to $1,100* in value in the first 12 months, including up to 35,000 bonus Scene+ points and first year annual fee waived on your first supplementary card.Âą Earn 25,000 bonus Scene+ points by making at least $1,000 in everyday eligible purchases in your first 3 months. Plus, as a Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite cardholder, you are eligible to earn an annual 10,000 Scene+ point bonus when you spend at least $40,000 in everyday net eligible purchases annually. Offer ends October 31, 2023.

Âą Conditions Apply. Visit here for the Scotiabank Passport® Visa Infinite* Card to learn more.

Visa vs Mastercard: Fees and rates

A card’s fees and rates are usually determined by its issuer, not processor. The only rates that Visa and Mastercard determine are the foreign exchange rates, which are usually comparable to what the Bank of Canada has listed. But keep in mind that many credit card issuers add on a 2.5% fee for any purchase made in a foreign currency.

Visa and Mastercard credit card annual fees can range from $0 to over $150 per year, but that’s again determined by the credit card issuer, not the processor. Generally speaking, higher annual fees translate into more comprehensive benefits, but you may need to have a higher income or credit score to qualify.

A credit card’s purchase interest rate is also set by its issuer, but most Visa and Mastercards have an average rate of 19.99%. Fees and rates are important considerations when choosing a credit card, but you generally need to look at the individual cards and what they offer as opposed to making assumptions about the cards based on their processor.

Home Trust Preferred Visa

Quick Facts

Who’s eligible?
– Minimum credit score: Fair-Good
– Minimum income: $15,000 individual
– Age: Age of majority in your province
– Residency: Must be permanent Canadian resident of any province other than Quebec
– Other: Cannot currently be in bankruptcy

The Home Trust Preferred Visa is another credit card that doesn’t charge the usual foreign transaction fee of 2.5%. This means that if you make a purchase in a foreign currency with this card, you’ll be charged at the currency spot rate determined by Visa for the day, without any added fees on top. This makes the card handy to have in your wallet if you plan on travelling abroad or making many online purchases in a foreign currency.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, there are very few important differences between Visa and Mastercard, and we can’t say that one is clearly better than the other. Visa and Mastercard securely process your payments for your peace of mind. Instead of deciding between Visa and Mastercard, what you should be focusing on is the individual features of each card to determine if it provides the features you need and aligns with your spending habits.

BMO is not responsible for maintaining the content on this site. Please click on the Apply now link for the most up to date information.

About our author

Daniel Teo
Daniel Teo, Author

Daniel Teo is a personal finance expert and travel writer based in Toronto. With a passion for financial literacy and a wanderlust that has brought him to over 30 countries, his stories touch on what’s possible when you achieve financial goals. His work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, CBC and on BNN.

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