Although VISA® and MasterCard® are by far the most popular and widely accepted credit cards worldwide, there are a number of alternatives available to consumers. These require a good amount of investigation before aquiring, however, because rates and terms vary widely depending on the type of charge card.
Discover® and American Express®:
The two most popular alternatives to VISA and MasterCard are the Discover Card and the American Express Card. The former is a product of the Greenwood Trust which is owned by Dean Witter & Co. It does not have the international acceptance of VISA or MasterCard, but it continues to grow in popularity in the United States. Unlike the two most popular card companies, the company does directly issue the Discover Card rather than going through a network of banks. The American Express Card is accepted worldwide but is not as pervasive as VISA or MasterCard for two reasons: firstly, the company is quite exclusive in its acceptance of members and secondly because the fees it charges merchants for the priviledge of accepting its cards leads many establishments not to accept it altogether. But American Express has evolved into a wide ranging and versatile financial services company and offers a growing variety of credit card types, benefits and financial services such as loans and banking.
Retail establishments have found that by issuing their own credit cards to customers they are able to generate a considerable amount of repeat business from consumers who want the convenience of purchasing by credit. For one thing, these consumers tend to spend more on purchases than consumers using cash. Secondly, merchants make significant profits from interest charges and fees for such credit accounts. Thirdly, merchants build up databases of information on their customers which benefit them directly in their marketing or indirectly when they are able to sell this information to various credit agencies and brokers.
Department store cards are usually much easier to aquire than bank cards. They also provide certain benefits through sales and discounts, but their interest rates tend to be very high. It is to a consumers advantage to pay the balances on these cards in full each month to avoid these interest charges. Since these cards are usually free, their prudent use can be a considerable convenience. Additionally, store cards are a good way to build up a credit record before applying for more difficult to obtain forms of credit. This is because retail establishments report their accounts to all the major credit bureaus. But consumers must be careful! Many establishments, particularly around the holiday season offer seemingly fantastic deals such as no interest offers on purchases for several months. However, if the customer misses the payment deadline, interest charges are computed from the initial date of purchase and can be quite exhorbitant.
Travel and Entertainment Cards:
T&E cards includeDiners Club® and American Express®. They differ from regular credit cards in that they require that customers pay their outstanding balances each month. They also tend to have high annual fees and to be accepted in far fewer places than credit cards from VISA, MasterCard and Discover. Because of their exclusivity, however, T&E cardholders usually obtain special benefits and incentives from card issuers. Holders may accrue points through airline travel, hotel stays and other business and entertainment expenses which are converted into cash or discounts. One advantage of such cards is the absence of a set spending limit. As long as a customer does not attempt charges which are clearly unpayable, there is no problem since the issuing company knows the amount will be repaid over the next payment cycle. Part of the appeal of these cards is the vanity factor which comes with the prestige of owning them. At the other end of the scale, gas cards are a form of Travel and Entertainment cards and are much easier to obtain.