What Is a Visa Card?

A Visa card is a payment card that uses the Visa network and is branded by Visa. The company began with just credit cards, but it has since branched out to include debit, prepaid, and gift cards as well. Although Visa cards bear the Visa symbol, they are not issued by the company itself. Instead, they are issued by partnered financial institutions.

Key Takeaways

  • Visa cards are payment cards that use the Visa network.
  • Financial institutions partner with Visa to use the company’s network.
  • Visa cards come with a 16-digit account number, microchip, and magnetic stripe.
  • Types of Visa cards include credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards, and gift cards.

Understanding Visa Cards

Visa is a prominent processing network, and its cards are accepted by businesses in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. Other payment processing companies with ownership of payment processing networks include Mastercard, American Express, and Discover.

A financial institution chooses to partner with a single transaction processing network provider such as Visa for all of its payment card products. Each issuer sets its own terms and conditions for the Visa cards it offers and decides on the customers to whom it will offer them. Visa cards are available to individual and business customers through a range of financial institution partnerships.

Service agreements include bank transaction fees and Visa network charges. Visa also partners with merchants through varying types of service agreements. Merchants that accept Visa cards pay Visa Inc. a small transaction fee for each customer transaction as part of the cost for the network processing services the company provides.

Each Visa card relies on the Visa payment processing network to execute transactions. Partnering with Visa as a primary payment processing network allows payments to be taken electronically and debited—or credited—to a cardholder’s account. Purchases are made with merchants that accept Visa cards. All Visa cards come with a unique 16-digit number that is printed or embossed on the front along with a microchip that provides the cardholder with protection against card fraud. There's a magnetic stripe on the back along with a panel for the cardholder’s signature.

Although they’re branded with the Visa name, Visa cards are issued by financial institutions, not by Visa.

Types of Visa Cards

As noted above, there are several different types of payment cards that are branded with the Visa name and use the Visa payment processing network: Visa credit cards, Visa debit cards, and prepaid and gift cards.

Visa credit cards

Financial institutions issue Visa credit cards to consumers whom they deem creditworthy based on their credit report. Visa credit cards provide cardholders with convenience and security and can be used at merchants and automated teller machines (ATMs) around the world.

Visa cards may come with numerous advantages, such as 0% introductory annual percentage rates (APRs), cash back rewards, and special benefits when shopping with a particular retailer. Traditional Visa cards offer basic services and fewer advantages to cardholders. Signature Visa cards offer more rewards and benefits, while Visa Infinite cards offer premium services and benefits to the most creditworthy cardholders.

The account number and cardholder’s name are embossed or printed on the front of a Visa card. The card also has a special three-digit validation code on the back. This code provides additional security for the cardholder.

Visa debit cards

Visa debit cards provide consumers with access to their everyday banking accounts, including checking and savings accounts. Like a credit card, they can be used to make purchases at retailers or to perform routine bank transactions at a branch or through the ATM. In order to execute transactions, cardholders must use a personal identification number (PIN).

Visa debit cards also come with the cardholder’s name and 16-digit account number embossed or printed, plus an expiration date on the front and a CW number on the back. The 16-digit number, however, is not the same as the associated deposit account number.

Visa prepaid and gift cards

Visa offers a range of different prepaid and gift cards. Both of these cards can be purchased at retailers and come with a printed 16-digit account number on the front.

Prepaid cards are not associated with a deposit or credit card account. These cards come loaded with a specific amount of money that acts as a credit limit. This means the cardholder can’t spend more than the amount loaded onto the card. These cards can be used anywhere Visa is accepted and in some cases can be reloaded for future use.

Gift cards are preloaded with a specific amount just like a prepaid card. They may be used wherever Visa is accepted. Some gift cards are meant to be used at a specific retailer. Gift cards generally cannot be reloaded after they’ve been emptied. They come with a special PIN number on the back.