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American Express vs. Visa
 Dec 30, 2008

Having a hard time deciding whether to apply for a Visa or American Express credit card? Both American Express and Visa offer a number of benefits. In this article we will compare American Express versus Visa, and the pros and cons of both credit cards.

You have probably seen a number of commercials (and received countless mail solicitations) regarding both American Express and Visa. Both are credit cards that offer a number of benefits. However, depending on your needs, one may be better than the other. And it can also help to consider how widely accepted a card is, as well as whether or not the rewards are worth your trouble.

American Express

American Express is a credit card issuer. While it does occasionally work with other organizations to put out special versions of cards, for the most part American Express is the sole issuer of its cards. American Express has a very interesting history. It originally started as a delivery service in 1850. The company delivered valuable and time-sensitive items and documents that were deemed too important to be entrusted to the United States Postal Service (which was notoriously unreliable at the time).

Eventually, American Express decided to provide financial services and the company phased out its delivery component. Indeed, the traveler's cheques that American Express offered were considered the main cheques for quite some time. American Express offered its first charge card in 1958. It was a true credit card (balances had to be paid in full every month) until 1987.


Visa was originally called BankAmericard and issued by Bank of America in 1958. It was always a revolving balance credit card. In 1970, BankAmericard was incorpirated as National BankAmericard Inc. and no longer tied specifically to Bank of America. In 1976, the company changed its name to Visa. Visa was privately held until 2008, when an initial public offering (IPO) set records.

Visa is a more of payment processing company than an issuer. For the most part, banks and other financial services companies issue cards on behalf of Visa, and Visa processes the transactions. This is why there is a wider variety of programs and options available offered by cards bearing the Visa logo than those with an American Express logo.

Right now, Visa is the world's most-used credit card brand. It is accepted almost anywhere in the world, and is extremely recognized. Most people have at least one Visa card in their wallets.

American Express vs. Visa

When you are deciding what credit card to use, it is important to take into account which car is best for you. Individuals have different preferences and needs, so it is a good idea to consider the individual programs and services offered.

One of the main things to look for is an annual fee. American Express credit cards normally come with some sort of annual fee. There are a couple that do not, but a fee is the usually modus operandi with American Express. However, many offers come with the promise to waive the annual fee for the first year (sometimes two) or if you agree to spend a certain amount of money each year.

Visa, on the other hand, can usually be found without an annual fee. However, different issuing banks and organizations may charge an annual fee. So watch for that. With Visa, it is important to look at what the bank or actual issuer is offering you, since each program and issuer offers different programs, terms and rewards.

For the most part, American Express is a cash back card. You will find that in many cases, American Express provides generous cash back rewards – often up to 5% on regular purchases. Few Visa cash back rewards cards offers a straight 5% cash back. However, if you are concerned about rewards like merchandise, miles and other items, Visa issuers generally provide more options.

While there can be great advantages to American Express – if you have specific needs and goals, it can be a detriment if you travel a lot, since American Express is not always accepted. You might want to keep a Visa as back up, just in case.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express.  Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express.  This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

Related Article: American Express vs. MasterCard >>

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