MasterCard Credit Cards

MasterCard is the number two credit card processing company in the world, second only to Visa. Like Visa, MasterCard operates effectively as an association of banks, even though recently it has become a public company with shareholders. It does exactly the same things as it always did back when it was an official association though, acting as a common intermediary between thousands of credit card issuing financial institutions and the merchants and their banks that receive credit card payments.

Mastercard Credit CardsLarge credit card processors like Visa and MasterCard each deal with tens of thousands of credit card issuers, and if each of these financial institutions had to make their own arrangements with merchants, only a handful might be able to actually pull this off, and the credit card market would be much smaller than it actually is.

There are a number of challenges involved in marketing a successful credit card, and two big ones are getting merchants to accept it and being able to easily make payments to all of the various banks that merchants in a market use.

Your card must be held widely enough for merchants to even want to go to the trouble of accepting it in the first place, and this was the biggest challenge for credit card issuers back in the dawn of the credit card era in the 1950’s.

Many attempts by banks, and some pretty good sized ones at that, failed because they couldn’t get the project off the ground, which meant that they had to have enough of their credit cards in people’s hands and would have enough merchants that accepted them to make this useful enough to work.

MasterCard and the Coming of the Credit Card

Charge cards had been around for a while at this point, cards issued by merchants to be used in their places of business, and charge accounts themselves had been around for much longer than that. So the card did make managing these charge accounts more convenient, but their use was still pretty restricted.

Some banks saw an opportunity here to come up with cards to be used at many merchants, and also to allow the banks or other financial institutions to issue revolving credit to cardholders, where borrowed funds could be paid back over a number of years if one wished, the same way a line of credit operates.

Charge cards benefited from their helping merchants increase their sales, and if people could pay a little later, they would often buy sooner, and sometimes would also buy more. Banks on the other hand make their money primarily from lending, and while some of their clients had lines of credit, marketing a successful credit card would make borrowing money from them much more convenient and accessible.

Bank of America in California was the first bank to successfully market a general purpose credit card, with their BankAmericard, and soon other banks wanted to get in on the action and license the card for their own use.

BankAmericard ended up growing from this single credit card held by a single bank in a single state to what we now know as Visa. With credit cards, there is certainly strength in numbers, and as the number of financial institutions involved grew, the acceptance of the card grew as well, and enough momentum was created that Visa has maintained its number one position all these years.

Bank of America was only initially interested in partnering up with banks outside of the California market though, and U.S. laws at the time did not permit them to offer credit cards to people in other states anyway, and banks outside California were eager to get in on the credit card craze themselves. This ended up expanding internationally as well, and soon this card, or licensed versions of it, were showing up in many other countries as well.

Several of Bank of America’s competitors in California did not want to be left out of all of this, so they teamed up to form an association to market their own credit card, in competition with BankAmericard.

So Wells Fargo, along with the United California Bank, the Crocker National Bank, and the Bank of California, teamed up with the Marine Midland Bank of New York, now HSBC USA, to form the Interbank Card Association. The card that they offered was called Master Charge, which later became known as MasterCard.

As was the case with the BankAmericard, Master Charge got its start in California and expanded outward, although BankAmericard got a good head start on them and they are still looking to catch up even today. Still though, their card ended up being fabulously successful, as more and more banks joined their association and began to offer Master Charge cards.

A little after Master Charge got off the ground, First National City Bank, now Citibank, introduced a card of their own, called the Everything Card, to provide an alternative to BankAmericard and Master Charge, but ended up joining forces with Master Charge shortly afterward, which greatly expanded Master Charge on the East Coast of the U.S.

Around this time, Master Charge also expanded internationally, keeping up with BankAmericard, by forming alliances with European payment processors. This expansion continued until Master Charge, or MasterCard as it’s known today, became widely accepted worldwide, the pinnacle of achievement for a credit card brand.

What MasterCard Does

Many people have major credit cards these days, and may just think of a brand of card like MasterCard as just being a brand, a marketing strategy for instance, but MasterCard brings a lot more than that to the table.

Banks do not have a natural affinity for one another and to a large degree, interbank payments still provide a lot of challenges, even with today’s networks and technology. It’s not that there’s really any situations anymore where you can’t make interbranch payments, but they can be pretty tedious, and especially take a lot of time, like for instance with a wire transfer.

Banks don’t just send your money from one bank to another, like many people think, and no money actually changes hands with interbank payments at all, as this would be very tedious and expensive to do. This would involve one bank sending cash to another, and cash isn’t used at all in interbank relationships, and this is just one of the reasons why not, the sheer great expense of this.

What banks do is settle payments between one another in bulk, which ends up having them owing each other various amounts of money each day, and these accounts are normally settled by accounts held in the central bank of one’s country.

So one of the things that MasterCard does is process these payments between banks, between the credit card issuing bank and the bank where the money is to be sent, and make this a whole lot easier than it would be otherwise. If banks had to do this themselves this would be much less efficient, but MasterCard handles all of this for them, which is an important component of the process indeed.

The second major function of MasterCard is to allow for acceptance of a bank’s credit card at a merchant. This is closely related to the payment processor function, for instance since MasterCard processes payments for its member banks, all a merchant has to do is to do business with MasterCard to take MasterCards, they don’t need business arrangements with the various tens of thousands of banks that issue MasterCards.

In managing these payments, MasterCard gets a cut of the gross receipts, and although it’s a very small percentage, the sheer number of transactions they process leads to billions of dollars in profit for the company each year.

Most of the money collected in fees by credit cards actually goes to the issuing banks, and fees represent a large part of the credit card issuers’ profit, and they are more than happy to have their cardholders pay off their balances each month and pay no interest since they are making plenty of money from their mere use.

Today’s MasterCard

MasterCard isn’t involved in the issuing of credit at all actually, neither short term or longer term, they just process the transactions, but this is a vital function.

MasterCard is no longer just an association of banks issuing credit cards, but for most of their history this is what the company consisted of. In 1996 the company went public, and now they aren’t just owned by the banks, as anyone can buy shares of MasterCard.

Aside from processing credit card payments, MasterCard also plays a role in providing users of their cards a more consistent experience across the various financial institutions that they are partnered with, as this association has card issuers abiding by a common set of rules, which benefits both cardholders and merchants by providing consistency.

MasterCard is also involved in credit card security, and while this responsibility ultimately falls upon the card issuer, MasterCard contributes technological support by way of its role as a processor.

MasterCard also plays a role in organizing common features and benefits of their cards, including things like protection against fraud, as well as benefits like increased warranty protection and the like.

Ultimately, MasterCard is set up to assist credit card issuers in managing their credit cards, and while the credit card issuers bear a lot of this load themselves, MasterCard does play an integral part of the credit card experience for all parties involved.

As has been the case with Visa, MasterCard’s sheer market influence has made them the brunt of several major lawsuits, contending that they have too much power to set prices, and this has placed certain restrictions on the influence they have on the credit card market, but nonetheless their impact on the credit card market continues to be very substantial indeed.

MasterCard FAQs

  • How do I check my Mastercard transactions?
    If you have online access to your credit card transactions, your credit card issuer will provide you with a real time report of your posted transactions, and most also allow you to see your pending transactions as well. Updates can be obtained over the phone as well, and credit card companies also issue monthly statements where transactions can be reviewed.
  • Can I withdraw money from my MasterCard?
    Provided that your MasterCard credit card has available funds that you can use for a cash advance, you can simply withdraw the desired amount at an ATM. Cash advances involve paying interest on the withdrawal from the day you make it, in addition to a cash advance fee that generally applies.
  • Is MasterCard a credit card?
    MasterCard is not a credit card but a payment processor. If you have a MasterCard branded credit card, this means that the card uses the MasterCard network to allow you to make payments to merchants that you use the card with. MasterCard has nothing to do with credit at all which is granted by the financial institution that issued you the card.
  • Do all ATMs accept Mastercard?
    MasterCard is one of the two major payment processors, and is almost universally accepted at point-of-sale locations around the world. It also can be used at most ATMs, provided that they are on one of MasterCard’s networks Cirrus or Maestro, whose logos will be displayed on an ATM if they are part of one of these networks.
  • How do I get money off my Mastercard?
    Many people confuse their available credit with their available funds to withdraw, and as a rule, only half of your available credit can be used for cash advances. Provided that you do have the amount available to withdraw your desired amount from your MasterCard, money can be withdrawn at an ATM that is on one of MasterCard’s networks, and most are.
  • Is Mastercard accepted everywhere?
    MasterCard is accepted virtually everywhere credit cards are accepted, as this is a very popular type of credit card and merchants almost always want to provide it as a payment option. Some merchants don’t take credit cards at all though so this would include not taking MasterCard payments. A small number may just take Visa.
  • How does a Mastercard work?
    MasterCards are used both for making payments and as a means of borrowing money. All payments made on a MasterCard or other credit cards involve borrowing the sum from the credit card issuer, which is then later paid back. If the payments are made in full when due, no interest is charged, but if not, a rate of interest will be charged.
  • How long does a MasterCard payment take?
    Credit card companies that issue MasterCard credit cards receive your payment on the same day electronically. Like with all transactions though, there is also a settlement date, typically two business days after the transaction, where the actual money changes hands, and this is when the payment gets posted to your account.
  • What type of company is MasterCard?
    MasterCard is a payment processing company that handles transactions between card issuers and merchants. MasterCard makes a small percentage on the overall volume of money that they handle, which they retain as compensation for providing the means to move money between these sources.
  • How do I apply for a MasterCard?
    There are many financial institutions that issue MasterCard branded credit cards, so the first step is choosing which one or ones that you wish to apply for a credit card with. Upon approval, a card will be issued with a certain credit limit, that the user may use to purchase items and to get cash advances.
  • Is MasterCard a payment gateway?
    MasterCard’s role in financial transactions is to provide a payment gateway between financial institutions and those receiving payment from their associated cards. When you use a MasterCard to pay for something, they arrange for the money to travel from your financial institution to the merchant.
Ken Stephens

Chief Editor,

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