What Is a Credit Card Issuer? Everything You Need to Know

By Jacqueline DeMarco · March 15, 2024 · 4 minute read

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What Is a Credit Card Issuer? Everything You Need to Know

Credit cards are handy financial tools, thanks to the credit card issuers who offer, provide, and manage them. A credit card issuer is a type of financial institution that supplies credit cards to consumers.

Read on to learn more about how these businesses operate.

What Is a Credit Card Issuer?

Credit card issuers are financial institutions responsible for making credit cards, managing the application and approval process for credit cards, and keeping credit card accounts running smoothly. If you needed to check your credit card balance, pay your bill, or request a replacement credit card, you’d turn to your credit card issuer.

Recommended: Guide to Credit Card Purchase Protection

How Credit Card Issuers Work

The financial institutions that offer credit cards can be lending institutions, banks, credit unions, or fintech companies. The cardholder borrows money from the credit card issuer each time they make a purchase, and when they pay their credit card bill, they’re paying the credit card issuer back for some or all of the credit they have used. This makes credit card issuers integral to what a credit card is.

A credit card issuer is the one to determine an applicant’s credit card interest rate and limit, the type of cardholder benefits offered, and the fee structure for the credit card. Generally, credit card issuers aren’t the ones to process merchant transactions, but they do decide whether to approve or decline a charge.

When questions about their credit card arise, account holders can call the number on the back of their credit card to connect with their credit card issuer’s customer support line.

Why Are Credit Card Issuers Important?

Understanding why credit card issuers are so important can help consumers to better manage their relationship with their credit card issuer and choose the right credit card for their needs once they’re old enough to get a credit card.

The issuer is responsible for determining a credit card’s terms and features. All credit card issuers have different policies, customer support approaches, and types of rewards offerings. Before choosing a credit card, it’s helpful to carefully research not just how a credit card works but how the credit card issuer runs its operations, in terms of fees and rates you will be subject to.

Recommended: How Do Credit Cards Work?

Common Credit Card Issuer Fees

What the fees look like for a specific credit card will vary by credit card issuer, but the following credit card issuer fees are fairly common to come across.

Annual Fees

An annual fee is a charge that’s paid once a year for having the credit card. These fees can often range from $95 to $500 or more per year. Not all cards charge this fee, but those that do tend to come with more valuable perks and rewards.

Before signing up for a credit card with an annual fee, it’s important to crunch the numbers to see if the rewards that come with using the credit card (like cash back or travel points) will outweigh the cost of the fee. Even if you get a good APR for a credit card, a high annual fee could make the offer less sweet.

Late Payment Fees

Late payment fees apply when someone is past due on paying their bill. Usually, these fees go up each time a payment is missed. The late fee won’t ever cost more than the minimum payment due on the payment the cardholder missed, but these fees can still add up. The current average fee is $32, but it may soon be lowered to $8, pending legislation.

Balance Transfer Fees

When someone transfers their credit card balance from one card to another (usually to a balance transfer card with a lower interest rate), they can potentially owe a balance transfer fee. This fee can be either a percentage of the transferred amount or a fixed fee.

While consolidating debt through a balance transfer can make it easier to pay off credit card debt, make sure to take into consideration any fees involved.

Foreign Transaction Fees

Making purchases when traveling abroad can lead to paying a foreign transaction fee, which is usually around 1% to 3% of the purchase.

However, there are plenty of credit cards — especially travel rewards credit cards — that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. If someone travels internationally often, they could save a lot by choosing a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, which is worth considering when applying for a credit card.

Credit Card Issuer vs Credit Card Payment Networks

It’s easy to confuse credit card issuers and credit card payment networks. While a credit card issuer creates and manages credit cards, a credit card payment network is the one that processes transactions between credit card companies and merchants.

Here are the key differences between credit card issuers and credit card payment networks:

Credit Card Issuer Credit Card Payment Network

•   Creates and manages credit cards

•   Accepts or declines credit card applicants

•   Determines fees, credit card APR, credit limits, and rewards

•   Approves and declines credit card transactions

•   Processes transactions between credit card companies and merchants

•   Creates the digital infrastructure that facilitates credit card transactions

•   Charges an interchange fee

•   Determines which credit cards can be used with which merchants

Differences Between Credit Card Issuers and Co-branded Partners

A co-branded partner is a merchant that works with a credit card issuer to create a co-branded credit card with their name on it. This is a common arrangement with store, airline, and hotel credit cards.

Here’s a breakdown of how credit card issuers and co-branded partners differ:

Credit Card Issuer Co-Branded Partner

•   Responsible for creating and managing credit cards

•   Decides whether to accept or decline credit card applicants

•   Determines card specifics, like fees, interest rates, and rewards

•   Approves and declines credit card transactions

•   Works with a a credit card issuer to create a co-branded card

•   Uses co-branded card created by issuer to increase sales and attract new customers

•   Can use co-branded card to deliver value to loyal customers

Finding the Credit Card Issuer Number

If someone looks closely at their credit card, they’ll be able to learn a lot about their credit card issuer, including what their credit card issuer number is and how to contact their issuer.

Credit Card Issuer Phone Number

It’s always possible to learn how to contact a credit card issuer by going to their website, but cardholders also can find their card issuer’s phone number on the back of their credit card or on their monthly statements.

Credit Card Issuer Identification Number

To find a credit card issuer number, all a cardholder has to do is look at the string of numbers on a credit card. The first six to eight digits on the card represent the Bank Identification Number (BIN), or the Issuer Identification Number (IIN). This number is what identifies the credit card issuer. The following digits on the card are what identify the cardholder.

Examples of Some Major Credit Card Issuers

There are many different credit card issuers, but these are some of the biggest ones in the U.S.:

•   American Express

•   Bank of America

•   Capital One

•   Chase

•   Citi

•   Discover

•   U.S. Bank

•   Wells Fargo

The Takeaway

When you’re choosing a credit card, looking at the credit card issuer matters. This is the financial institution that creates and manages credit cards, determines a card’s fees, interest rate, and rewards offerings, and also approves (or denies) credit card applicants. Knowing that you have a well regarded issuer with fair policies is an important step in securing a credit card that suits your needs.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.


How do I know my credit card issuer?

If someone is unsure of who their credit card issuer is, they can look at the credit card number on their card. The first six to eight digits on a credit card — called either the Bank Identification Number (BIN) or the Issuer Identification Number (IIN) — identify the card issuer.

What is the difference between a credit card issuer and a credit card network?

Credit card networks, unlike credit card issuers, are the party that processes the credit card transaction directly with merchants. Credit card networks have digital infrastructure that allow them to facilitate transactions between merchants and card issuers in exchange for an interchange fee.

What do credit card issuers do?

Credit card issuers create, distribute, and manage credit cards. They decide what the interest rates and fees of a credit card are, who is approved for one and how much they can spend, and how the card’s rewards structure works.

Photo credit: iStock/Luke Chan

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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