Credit Card Associations, also referred to as Bank Card Associations, is a group of organizations that set the terms for merchants, issuing banks, and acquiring banks to process and use credit cards.
The major card associations are: Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, Discover.
These organizations are financial institutions that license credit card programs to banks, giving them the right to use the credit card association logos (VISA/MC/etc.) on their credit cards.
Card associations allow banks to issue credit cards to consumers.
For example the Chase "Freedom Card" is a VISA card with Chase branding on it. This specific credit card offered by Chase gives consumers specific perks (like points on every purchase, etc.) which can entice customers to choose this card over many alternative and, in effect, acts as a source revenue and lead generation for Chase.
In addition to providing banks with the ability to issue credit cards to consumers, the bank card associations handle all the back-office work involved with processing transactions and authorizations, fund settlements, fee processing, and use the bank card association's name, branding, logo, marketing collateral, infrastructure, resources, etc.
In return for all of this, Chase pays a licensing fee to VISA. And similarly, any other bank utilizing a credit card association (VISA/MC/etc.) would pay that association a licensing fee for similar functions.
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