Discover vs. Visa: How They Differ
Have you ever wondered if there’s really a big difference between Visa® and Discover? You’ll notice both companies’ logos on the front of credit cards and at cash registers around the world — but what sets them apart?
While historically the conventional wisdom has been that Discover is not as widely accepted as Visa, the truth is that Discover has good domestic acceptance and also has strong international acceptance in some regions, particularly Asia.
Discover has an outstanding cash back program, including cards where all of your cash back is doubled at the end of the first year. On the other hand, there are more credit cards that use the Visa processing network, including several with outstanding travel perks and other benefits.
|Issuer or processing network?||Both||Network|
|Domestic acceptance||10.6 million merchants*||10.9 million merchants*|
|International acceptance||42.9 million merchants*||44.4 million merchants*|
|No foreign transaction fees||(depending on the card)|
|Options for low credit scores|
|Good cash back card options|
|Good travel card options|
|Business card options|
|Car rental insurance||(depending on the card)|
|Travel insurance||(depending on the card)|
|Purchase protections||(depending on the card)|
*Source: 2018 Nilson Report
Credit card network vs. credit card issuer
First, it’s important to understand the difference between a credit card network and a credit card issuer. Discover is both a credit card issuer and a credit card network while Visa is only a credit card network. A network is responsible for deciding where credit cards are accepted and handles the transactions between merchants and credit card issuers. The four major networks are Visa®, Mastercard®, Discover and American Express®.
On the other hand, a credit card issuer is responsible for issuing your credit card. The issuer designs the rewards programs, decides who is accepted, and sets your credit limit, the APR and all other terms. The biggest credit card issuer in the U.S. is Chase.
Discover vs. Visa: Domestic acceptance
While you might think that Visa is much more widely accepted than Discover, the numbers show that the gap between the two credit card networks is much closer than you might think. A 2018 Nilson report on merchant acceptance showed that Visa was accepted by 10.9 million merchants in the United States, while Discover was only slightly behind, with 10.6 million merchants taking Discover cards.
Discover vs. Visa: International acceptance
The same Nilson report showed a relatively small acceptance gap between Discover and Visa worldwide, with Discover accepted at 42.9 million merchants with Visa being accepted at 44.4 million.
However, although the numbers appear similar, the range of acceptance is much lower for Discover and the acceptance rate varies by country. In many countries, Discover users will have to rely on Discover’s partnership with the Diners Club network. The Diners Club network is extremely limited outside the U.S., and, excluding Asia, you will have a very hard time using Discover abroad.
- In Central America: Discover
- In South America: Diners Club
- In the Caribbean: Discover
- In Europe: Discover, Diners Club
- In Asia: Diners Club, China UnionPay, JCB
- In Africa: Diners Club
- In Oceania: Discover, Diners Club
Discover vs. Visa: Credit card options
One side effect of the fact that many different credit card issuers use the Visa processing network is that there are many more options for Visa cards than there are for Discover. Discover has a relatively limited number of credit cards (only seven cards total) compared to Visa, which features hundreds of cards across many different issuers. While both Discover and Visa offer credit cards for varying credit score ranges, Discover currently has no business credit card options.
So if you’re looking for more options, Visa will be the better choice, especially if you are a business owner.
Discover vs. Visa: Rewards programs
In a similar vein, you have more options for different rewards programs with Visa cards. Discover is a good way to go for cash back rewards, while Visa offers good options for both cash back and travel rewards cards.
Cash back rewards
You can find good cash back cards on both networks, and choosing the right credit card for you will depend on your specific financial situation.
- For example, the Discover it® Cash Back earns Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases—automatically. Redeem your rewards for cash at any time..
- With the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, unlimited 1.5% cash back is just the beginning. Enjoy 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; and 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
One great feature of Discover’s cash back program is that you’ll have all of your cash back doubled at the end of the first year of membership.
Discover’s network of credit cards is mostly focused on cash back rewards, so it falls short if you’re more interested in travel rewards. There is a wide variety of credit cards that use the Visa processing network, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card or the World of Hyatt Credit Card. If you want to earn airline miles, hotel points or other travel rewards, you’re likely to be better off with a Visa card.
Discover vs. Visa: Other benefits
While Discover cards offer basic benefits such as free access to your FICO credit score and zero fraud liability, Visa cards have more to offer, especially for travel purchases. There are three different levels of Visa card benefits (Visa Traditional, Visa Signature and Visa Infinite). Each tier of Visa card comes with a higher level of benefits, so premium Visa cards offer a higher level of both protections and perks.
|Discover card||Visa Traditional||Visa Signature|
Why choose Discover?
Discover is a good choice if you plan on spending in the U.S. and enjoy the benefits the Discover network provides. Discover can be a good option if:
- You already have a card from another issuer. If you have a card from a more widely accepted network, then you may want a Discover card to maximize your rewards.
- You’re a student. Discover offers great options for students that provide the groundwork to build responsible credit behavior.
- You’re new to credit or have bad or poor credit. Discover offers an excellent selection of cards for consumers looking to establish or rebuild credit.
Top Discover cards
Why choose Visa?
Visa is a great choice for people who want a credit card that is widely accepted and comes with more comprehensive benefits. Visa credit cards are also the way to go for people who want to use a credit card abroad, since Visa has excellent worldwide acceptance. Visa has dozens of credit cards from different issuers that provide a range of benefits with something for everyone. If you have average or better credit, you will enjoy the wide selection of Visa credit cards with premium rewards and benefits.
While Discover focuses mainly on cash back rewards, there are Visa credit cards that offer cash back, airline miles, hotel points or other travel rewards. So no matter what kind of credit card rewards you’re interested in, you’re likely to find a Visa card that works for you. And on top of any rewards offered by the issuing bank, you’ll also have access to Visa’s standard benefits including travel and price protection perks.
Top Visa cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card