credit card


credit card
a card that identifies a person as entitled to have food, merchandise, services, etc., billed on a charge account.
[1885-90, Amer.]

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Small card that authorizes the person named on it to charge goods or services to his or her account.

It differs from a debit card, with which money is automatically deducted from the bank account of the cardholder to pay for the goods or services. Credit-card use originated in the U.S. in the 1920s; early credit cards were issued by various firms (e.g., oil companies and hotel chains) for use at their outlets only. The first universal credit card, accepted by a variety of establishments, was issued by Diners' Club in 1950. Charge cards such as American Express require cardholders to pay for all purchases at the end of the billing period (usually monthly). Bank cards such as MasterCard and Visa allow customers to pay only a portion of their bill; interest accrues on the unpaid balance. Credit-card companies get revenue from annual fees and interest paid by cardholders and from fees paid by participating merchants.

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      small card containing a means of identification, such as a signature or picture, that authorizes the person named on it to charge goods or services to an account, for which the cardholder is billed periodically. The use of credit cards originated in the United States during the 1920s, when individual firms, such as oil companies and hotel chains, began issuing them to customers for purchases made at company outlets.

      The first universal credit card, which could be used at a variety of establishments, was introduced by the Diners' Club, Inc., in 1950. Another major card of this type, known as a travel and entertainment card, was established by the American Express Company in 1958. Under this system, the credit card company charges its cardholders an annual fee and bills them on a periodic basis—usually monthly. Cooperating merchants throughout the world pay a service charge to the credit card issuer in the range of 4–7 percent of total billings.

      A later innovation was the bank credit card system, in which the bank credits the account of the merchant as sales slips are received and assembles the charges to be billed at the end of the period to the cardholder, who pays the bank either in toto or in monthly installments with interest or “carrying charges” added. The first national plan was BankAmericard, begun on a statewide basis by the Bank of America (Bank of America Corporation) in California in 1958, licensed in other states beginning in 1966, and renamed VISA in 1976–77. Many banks that began credit card plans on a citywide or regional basis eventually affiliated with major national bank plans as the range of included services (meals and lodging as well as store purchases) expanded. This development changed the nature of personal credit, which was no longer limited by one's location. The growing reach of credit networks allowed a person to make credit card purchases on a national and, eventually, international scale. The system has spread to all parts of the world. Other major bank cards include MasterCard (formerly known as Master Charge in the United States), JCB (in Japan), and Barclaycard (in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Caribbean).

      In bank credit card systems, the cardholder may choose to pay on an installment basis, in which case the bank earns interest on the outstanding balance. The interest income permits banks to refrain from charging cardholders an annual fee and to charge participating merchants a lower service charge. An additional advantage of the system is that merchants receive their payments promptly by depositing their bills of sale with the bank. (See also revolving credit.)

      Store cards are a third form of credit card. They lack the wide acceptance of bank cards or travel and entertainment cards because they are recognized only by the retailer that issues them, such as Sears. Debit cards (debit card) are in some ways similar to credit cards, but, unlike credit cards, the transaction sum is immediately subtracted from the account linked to the purchaser's debit card.

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Universalium. 2010.

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