The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Saturday, November 28, 2020
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2020's Best Mastercard® Credit Cards

Below are our staff ratings of 2020's best Mastercard® credit cards. Issued by a variety of banks globally, Mastercard® is accepted at more than 40 million locations worldwide.

Average APR
17.24%
Average Annual Fee
$29.80
Rate Trend
0.24%
since last month
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The credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which CardRates.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers.

17 FAQs About Mastercard Credit Cards

Adam West
By: Adam West
Updated:
17 FAQs About Mastercard Credit Cards
CardRates.com Guide: Mastercard®

Curating a list of the best Mastercard credit cards is not an easy task. So many banks and credit unions across the country partner with the credit processing giant that there seems to be an endless number of cards fighting for the top of the list.

But one thing is for certain — if your credit card features the Mastercard logo, you are going to receive quick and reliable transaction processing, some nice perks, and you won’t have any trouble finding a merchant who accepts your card.

But to be the true best Mastercard credit card, you have to offer much more — including lucrative rewards, great customer service, and low fees and finance charges. Below we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about Mastercard and how to choose the best Mastercard credit card for you.

1. What is Mastercard?

Mastercard is the world’s second-largest credit card payment processing network, right behind its main competitor, Visa.

Mastercard Logo

Many people confuse a credit card issuer and network. Your card’s issuer is the bank that lends you the money to pay for every transaction when you swipe, tap, or insert your credit card chip. The network — in this case, Mastercard — is the technology behind the transaction that checks to make sure your card is valid and you have enough funds to cover the transaction.

Mastercard partners with banks, including Chase, Capital One, and Citi — whose Double Cash card is one of the most popular offerings on the Mastercard network.

Mastercard began as Interbank from 1966 until 1969 before changing its moniker to Master Charge from 1969 until 1979. The company began as part of an alliance between several regional banks, which joined forces to compete against Bank of America’s groundbreaking BankAmericard — the first consumer credit card in the United States.

The alliance began not only in response to the BankAmericard but because of several Federal laws that prohibited interstate banking. By joining forces, the banks could circumvent the law and create a consumer credit card network that worked across state lines throughout the eastern portion of the United States.

The plan worked — and by 1979, MasterCard was born. The name remained the same until 2016 when the company rebranded with a lowercase “c” to spell Mastercard. Mastercard controls a 24.46% market share in the credit card processing field.

Ironically, the BankAmericard eventually became what is known today as Visa. Mastercard and Visa continue to compete after nearly 60 years in the marketplace.

Mastercard has continued to grow, and today the network's hundreds of partner cards are accepted in more than 210 countries around the world. But Mastercard is known for more than simply worldwide acceptance; its built-in cardholder benefits helped set the bar for modern credit cards.

2. How Does a Mastercard Credit Card Work?

Mastercard plays a massive role in completing your transaction quickly and accurately. To date, Mastercard is one of the world’s largest providers of technology and network solutions to complete your credit and debit card transactions.

Whenever you swipe, tap, or insert your credit card, the merchant’s point of sale system sends the sale information to an acquirer (or merchant bank). This is a financial institution that is licensed by Mastercard to help a merchant fulfill its obligation to accept Mastercard.

The acquirer then communicates with the issuing bank — or the bank that issued your debit or credit card and sends the money for your sale.  This is just the beginning of the process that, according to Mastercard, includes:

  • The customer pays with Mastercard: This covers the cost of goods or services from a merchant.
  • The payment is authenticated: The merchant point-of-sale system captures the customer’s account information and securely sends it to the acquirer.
  • The transaction is submitted: The merchant acquirer asks Mastercard to get an authorization from the customer’s issuing bank.
  • Authorization is requested: Mastercard submits the transaction to the issuer for authorization.
  • Authorization response: The issuing bank authorizes the transaction and routes the response back to the merchant.
  • Merchant payment: The issuing bank routes the payment to the merchant’s acquirer who deposits the payment into the merchant’s account.

This entire exchange of information typically happens in a matter of seconds.

3. How Do I Get a Mastercard Credit Card?

The first step to obtaining any credit card is to research the best option for your financial situation and goals. The next step is to apply for the card you want to add to your wallet.

Mastercard partners with most major banks throughout the world. Many of the leading credit card issuers, including Capital One and Citi, partner with both Visa and Mastercard and offer both options to its customers. Community banks and credit unions issue some of the best Mastercard credit cards too.

You can tell which network a card uses by looking for the network logo on the front of the card. You will either see a Mastercard, Visa, American Express, or Discover logo. These are the four major payment networks in the U.S.

Discover and American Express, however, are both the bank and the payment network, which means they directly issue their own cards to consumers.

The list of Mastercards above can serve as your jumping-off point for finding the best card for your needs. Most credit card issuers let you prequalify for the card of your choice. This preliminary application form requires you to submit your name, Social Security number, address, and income information to the bank.

The bank will generate a soft credit pull that gives it access to a modified version of your credit history and does not generate a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Capital One Prequalify Application

Most issuers let you see if you prequalify for a card without hurting your credit score.

If you prequalify, the bank will invite you to officially apply for the credit card. In most cases, prequalifying is not mandatory, but it does give you the peace of mind needed before submitting a full application that will generate an inquiry.

Keep in mind that prequalifying does not guarantee that you will receive the credit card when you apply. The bank may see something on your hard credit pull that it did not see prior to accessing your full credit reports. That information may affect the bank’s decision to accept or decline your application.

If the bank accepts your application, you will receive your new credit card in the mail in between seven and 10 business days. As soon as it arrives, you can activate it over the phone or online and begin using it immediately.

In some cases, a bank may allow you to have immediate access to your credit line as soon as it approves your application. You are issued a temporary credit card number that you can access through the bank’s website or mobile application.

4. What are the Benefits of Having a Mastercard?

Most of the benefits that cardholders receive from their cards come directly from the issuing bank. The bank determines what — if any — rewards you will receive. The bank also decides your interest rate and overall fee structure.

The Mastercard network can sometimes provide its own benefits for cardholders. These also vary by the type of card, but can include:

  • Zero liability protection against fraudulent transactions
  • Rental car insurance when you pay for your rental using your card
  • Trip cancellation insurance when you pay for your accommodations using your card
  • Price matching services when you purchase an item using your card and find it cheaper within a specified time frame

Your Mastercard can also unlock access to several exclusive events and experiences as well as other valuable promotions.

Check your credit card disclosure document before you apply to get a full list of the benefits and perks your card will provide to you if you apply and are approved.

5. What is the Best Mastercard Credit Card?

This depends on your credit score and which Mastercard you qualify for. But, generally speaking, we like the Chase Freedom FlexSM.

Chase Freedom FlexChase is the largest credit card issuer in terms of market share, and its valuable rewards program is one reason why. Cardholders of the Chase Freedom FlexSM can earn bonus cash back in quarterly rotating categories and tiered bonus categories. This is the first card we know of to combine rotating and tiered cash back rewards on a single card.

And if you pair this card with one of Chase’s Sapphire cards (both Visas), you can turn your cash back into flexible Ultimate Rewards Points to really maximize your rewards.

Signup bonuses and welcome offers change regularly, so check for the card’s current offer before you apply.

Another excellent Mastercard for consumers with good credit is the Citi® Double Cash Card, particularly if you don’t want to keep track of quarterly rotating merchants. This card offers a unique reward structure of 1% cash back when you buy and another 1% when you pay for an industry-leading 2% cash back rate with no annual fee.

If your credit isn’t the best, check out the Surge Mastercard® or the Milestone® Mastercard® – Less Than Perfect Credit Considered.

6. What Credit Score is Needed to Get a Mastercard?

Cards that use the Mastercard network have a wide range of approval standards, including several credit cards for bad credit that feature the Mastercard logo. Many of these cards, including the top-ranked Surge Mastercard®, will consider applicants who have credit scores in the mid to high 500s.

Should You Get an Unsecured or Secured Card?If you have damaged credit and think that you may not qualify for a traditional unsecured Mastercard credit card, consider a secured Mastercard credit card.

A secured card may not require a full credit check for approval. Instead, issuers of these cards base their approval decisions on your refundable security deposit that the bank holds in case you stop making payments or default on your credit card account. You’ll also likely need a bank account for approval.

Just about every secured Mastercard will base your credit limit on the amount of your security deposit. For example, a $500 security deposit will net you a secured card with a $500 credit limit.

These cards, just like traditional unsecured credit cards, will report your payment history to the three major credit reporting bureaus. With on-time payments and low balances, you can improve your credit score with a secured card and work your way toward an upgrade to an unsecured Mastercard offering.

And since your security deposit backs up your account, you will almost always find approval when you apply for a secured credit card. The lone exceptions are if you have an active or recent bankruptcy case, you have currently reported late payments, or a credit account is currently in collections.

7. Does Mastercard Have Cards for Bad Credit?

Many banks offer credit cards for bad credit and partner with Mastercard to process transactions.

As mentioned above, you can consider a secured Mastercard to help build or rebuild your credit score. A secured credit card may require a large upfront security deposit, but the low cost of these cards overall sometimes makes them a more affordable option for working on your credit.

But you still have several unsecured credit card options for bad credit if you do not wish to open a secured account.

The Surge Mastercard®, Indigo® Unsecured Mastercard®, and Milestone® Mastercard® – Less Than Perfect Credit Considered all use the Mastercard network and give you access to a revolving credit line. These cards won’t dismiss your application because of previous financial mistakes.

In fact, the Indigo offering states that it will still consider your application even if you have a discharged bankruptcy on your credit history.

Few credit card issuers will consider your application for credit if you have a pending bankruptcy. This is because the bank runs the risk that the judge will add your new credit card to the list of debts in your case, thus releasing you from making payments.

That’s a risk that no bank wants to take. While some credit cards will consider you once you have completed your court-ordered classes and paperwork, you will almost certainly have to wait until the judge signs off on your case before you apply for new credit.

Keep in mind that credit cards for bad credit rarely come with the same rewards as their good credit counterparts. You will also likely find yourself paying higher fees — be it an annual fee, foreign transaction fee, or interest charges — on your account.

These fees are not set by Mastercard. Instead, your issuing bank determines how much it will charge you for your access to credit.

8. What Kind of Rewards Can I Get from a Mastercard?

All credit card rewards are paid by the bank that issues your card. This means Mastercard does not determine your rewards rate or structure.

That said, dozens of banks that partner with Mastercard offer tremendous rewards for cardholders. You may have one of three main reward structures with your card. The one that works best for you will consider your financial situation, goals, and interests.

  • Cash Back: While it may not always be the most lucrative, cash back remains one of the most popular credit card rewards options because of its ease of use and simple terms. A cash back rewards card pays you back a percentage of every eligible purchase you charge to your card. An eligible purchase typically means any new purchase (a balance transfer or cash advance rarely qualifies for cash back). Cash rewards rates can range between 1% and jump all the way to 6%. The most common rate tends to rest around 2%, which means for every $100 you charge to your card, the bank will refund you $2 in cash back. Your rewards will accrue in your credit card account until you decide to redeem them. Most banks allow you to receive your rewards as a statement credit against your current balance or through a paper check or direct deposit into a linked checking or savings account. Popular cash back Mastercards include the Chase Freedom FlexSM, Citi® Double Cash Card, and Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card.
  • Rewards Points: This can be the most lucrative rewards program, but may take the most time and work to master. With rewards points, you earn a set number of points for every dollar you charge to your card. You can redeem your points for a host of rewards, including gift cards, merchandise, travel rewards, or cash back. Some card issuers also let you transfer your points to a partnered loyalty or frequent flyer program, share them with a loved one, or donate them to a charitable cause. The work with these rewards comes from finding the best ways to maximize your rewards earnings. Redemption bonus categories will have different rates of return. For example, you will earn far more travel discounts with your points than you would earn cash back. But once you’ve mastered the rewards game and understand how far you can stretch your points, you can get a big bang for your buck when it comes time to redeem your rewards. Popular points Mastercards include the Citi Rewards+℠ Card and the Citi Prestige® Credit Card, both of which earn Citi ThankYou points.
  • Travel Rewards: If you’re a frequent traveler, a travel rewards card is for you. While you can earn travel discounts through a bonus points credit card, you won’t see as many options as you would through a dedicated travel credit card. Travel rewards come in two forms. One will provide you with miles which, similar to bonus points, you can redeem for future travel accommodations — including airfare, hotels, rental cars, experiences, or ride-sharing services. Other cards will allow you to rack up miles that you will use as a statement credit to erase all or part of a previous travel-related expense. This may not seem as exciting, but these cards don’t impose blackout dates or carrier restrictions and allow you to travel however you like, while covering all or part of your cost for the trip. Popular travel Mastercards include the Citi Prestige® Credit Card, JetBlue Card, and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®.

Depending on your credit history, you shouldn’t have an issue with finding a Mastercard network credit card that offers any of the rewards program options listed above. Just remember that the amount of cash back, points, or miles you receive will vary depending on the card. Be sure to choose a card that you qualify for.

9. Which is Better, Visa or Mastercard?

You won’t find many differences when choosing between Visa or Mastercard as your credit card network. The only thing that may separate the two in your eyes is the banks that each network partners with to issue cards.

Visa and Mastercard each provide the security and technology needed to process your credit and debit card transactions. They don’t issue your account, pay for your transactions, or have a say as to whether your application is approved.

It’s like the engine that drives your car — it’s an obviously important part of your vehicle, but not the only thing you consider when shopping for a new ride. If Visa and Mastercard were engines, they’d both be NASCAR-quality motors. Let’s break it down:

  • Global Merchants Serviced: Mastercard — 52.9 million, Visa — 52.9 million
  • Card Processor: Mastercard — yes, Visa — yes
  • Card Issuer: Mastercard — no, Visa — no
  • Countries and Territories Supported: Mastercard — 210+, Visa — 200+

The defining factor may be the partnered banks. While many banks offer both Visa and Mastercard card options, partnerships make certain networks more prominent within a bank.

For Mastercard, you can find those partnerships with Bank of America, Chase, Citi, Capital One, United, and SunTrust, among others. Visa partners with Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and U.S. Bank, among others. These partnerships can change at any time.

10. Is Visa More Accepted than Mastercard?

Both networks partner with 52.9 million merchants worldwide that accept the network’s cards as a form of payment. Mastercard services more than 210 countries and territories and 150 currencies. Visa works in more than 200 countries and territories.

But while Mastercard remains the most popular in terms of Google Trends data — and most widely issued — credit card in 22 countries, Visa has the edge in 123 countries. That doesn’t necessarily equate to a broader acceptance rate in those countries.

Overall, Mastercard leads the way with more than 551 million credit cards in circulation around the world.

What’s most interesting when you look at the list is that the most popular network in the United States isn’t Visa or Mastercard — it’s American Express. That shows that you can still be present and widely accepted in a country without being the most popular.

11. What are the Different Types of Mastercards?

While thousands of different Mastercards are issued from various financial institutions around the world, Mastercard has four main types of cards:

  • The Standard Mastercard is Mastercard’s basic card for everyday purchases and offers worldwide service and access to valuable benefits.
  • The Titanium & Platinum Mastercard® is associated with premium cards and gives its cardholders added benefits, including Mastercard Global Services™.
  • The World Mastercard® is found on travel rewards cards and comes with even more features and benefits that include Mastercard Global Services and concierge services.
  • The World Elite Mastercard® is Mastercard’s premier offering and provides a truly personalized credit card experience with a dedicated travel advisor and concierge service to make every trip more seamless and unforgettable. This is comparable to Visa Signature® cards.

Each type of Mastercard has its own set of benefits that come directly from the network, but the banks that issue these types of cards dictate the rewards and payment terms offered.

12. Which Major Banks Issue Mastercard Credit Cards?

Just about every major bank has a partnership with Mastercard and issues cards that use its network. Many banks spread their credit card portfolio between both Mastercard and Visa to give their customers more options.

Mastercard has partnerships with Citi, Capital One, United, and SunTrust to provide debit card access to members. And you can find Mastercard branded credit card options with all of the other major banks, including Chase and Bank of America.

One of the few exceptions is Wells Fargo Bank, which partners with Visa and American Express for its credit card options.

13. Do Credit Unions Issue Mastercards?

Mastercard also partners with many of the largest credit unions in the U.S. to provide network services for both debit and credit cards.

This includes a partnership with SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union — the fifth-largest credit union in the country. Other top institutions that partner with Mastercard include First Technology Federal Credit Union and Security Service Federal Credit Union. Mastercard also partners with many smaller, regional credit unions to provide processing services to its customers.

If you belong to a credit union or are considering joining one, check on the credit union’s website or with an employee in member services to see which payment network the credit union partners with.

14. Does Mastercard Allow Balance Transfers?

Since Mastercard is not your issuing bank and does not handle any of the money you charge or repay, it does not provide a balance transfer option.

Instead, Mastercard provides the security and technology needed for your card’s issuing bank to process each transaction you make. Consider Mastercard as the bridge that connects you and the merchant to the bank.

You will need to work with the bank that issues your credit card to initialize a balance transfer. Most banks allow you to transfer a balance from an existing credit card to a different card. You may have to pay a balance transfer fee — typically a percentage of the total amount you transfer — and your balance transfer APR will likely be different from your regular purchase APR.

Chart of Potential Balance Transfer Savings

Many of the best balance transfer credit cards work on the Mastercard network — meaning that you can still move your debt around while possibly enjoying a long period of interest-free financing on your transferred balance.

15. Does Mastercard Charge an Annual Fee?

As your credit card network and processor, you will never have to pay for Mastercard’s services. Instead, the network charges a transaction processing fee to the merchant and to the issuing bank for its services.

Any annual fee that you may find on a credit card comes directly from the card’s issuing bank. This fee may work to help offset the cost of the processing fees or rewards you receive. But the fee does not go directly to Mastercard or any other processing company.

16. Does Mastercard Offer Business Credit Cards?

Mastercard does not directly issue any business credit cards. Instead, the network partners with banks and credit unions that issue business credit cards to qualified applicants.

But, yes, some of the best business credit cards work on the Mastercard network.

Since Mastercard isn’t the issuer of your card, the company will have no influence on whether your application is approved. Many banks that issue business credit cards will examine your company transactions and credit history, as well as your personal credit score, to determine your eligibility for a business credit card.

17. Do Mastercard Credit Cards Have Signup Bonuses?

Mastercard does not provide any rewards, promotional offers, or signup bonus offers for your credit cards. Those offers come directly from the bank that issues your credit card.

That said, you can find many cards that work on the Mastercard network and provide very lucrative signup bonus offers from the bank. These may include bonus cash back, points rewards, or travel rewards when you reach certain spending thresholds.

You may also find a promotional period that extends from six months to as long as 21 months and offers interest-free financing for new purchases and/or balance transfers. These offers are typically only available to new cardholders.

Ask the credit card issuer for a cardholder agreement document before you apply to make sure you understand any promotions you may qualify for. Our list of the best Mastercard credit cards above updates the most recent promotions and welcome bonus offers in real time.

Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

The information on this page was reviewed for accuracy on .

About the Author

Adam West Adam West

As Managing Editor for CardRates, Adam oversees content and regularly interviews some of the payments industry's biggest influencers and decision-makers so our site can bring high-quality and engaging stories to our audience and keep readers informed on the latest trends and technology in the space.

Advertiser Disclosure: The credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which CardRates.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers. See the credit card issuer's website for specific terms and conditions of each card.