When you're evaluating the benefits of one credit card over another, you have a lot of different factors to consider, including fees, rewards, and interest rates. But does the type of credit card you choose matter at all? Is there any real difference between a Visa and a Discover card with the exact same terms?
There are four major credit card networks in the US: Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express. These companies offer a network of infrastructure that allows merchants to swipe your card and then collect the money from your card issuer. They also set the fees that the merchant must pay to use the network – that's right, every time you swipe your card, the merchant must pay for the privilege of allowing you to do so.
The fees that your merchant pays, also known as interchange fees, are not static; Visa and Mastercard adjust their rates twice a year. Different types of businesses also pay different rates, and they may have different fees for different tiers of credit cards and debit cards. For instance, a Visa debit card transaction at a grocery store may have a smaller interchange fee associated with it than a restaurant even if the transactions themselves cost the same amount.
Online shopping is usually more expensive for the retailer because swiping a card is typically cheaper than typing in your card number on a website.
Of the four major credit card networks in the US, Visa usually has the lowest processing fees. American Express often has higher fees.
|Network||Average Credit Card Processing Fee|
|Mastercard||1.55% - 2.6%|
|Visa||1.43% - 2.4%|
|Discover||1.56% - 2.3%|
|American Express||2.5% - 3.5%|
These are on top of any additional fees that the credit card networks may charge such as charge-back fees, terminal rental fees, and IRS reporting fees. These fees are paid by the merchants, but they also affect you as a consumer. American Express almost always has higher fees than Visa, Mastercard and Discover, which is why you're more likely to encounter a merchant that won't accept it. If you're in the market for a new credit card, you may want to make sure you have a Visa or Mastercard as a backup instead of only having Discover or American Express, as Visa and Mastercard were accepted at 10.7 million locations in the US at the end of 2019, compared to 10.6 million for Discover or AMEX. Costco is one merchant that only accepts Visa, and those without a Visa card may be out of luck.
Issuers vs. Networks
Pull out the credit card in your wallet and take a look at it. Chances are, if it's a Visa or Mastercard, you'll see their logo as well as the logo of the bank that issued it. That's because Visa and Mastercard are card networks, but do not actually issue the cards themselves. They merely facilitate payments between the merchant and the bank that issued the card.
On the other hand, Discover and American Express both process transactions and issue cards. As with the fees, this may not have a big impact on you as the cardholder. However, it does mean that you can't take advantage of having a card linked to your bank. if you are interested in building a deeper relationship with your bank to get better interest rates or have everything consolidated into one app, Discover and American Express may not be the strongest options.
When picking your next credit card, consider the array of cards that you already have, and ask yourself if you are interested in diversifying the different networks that you may be able to use if one retailer does not accept a certain type of card. However, as most of the practical differences are behind the scenes and don't affect you, your considerations should be given to the different types of rewards you can get through the card and the fees you will pay before you worry about which card network you might want to use.
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When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.