Information on Merchant Accounts,
Ecommerce and Credit Card Processing

April 17th, 2006 by Jamie Estep

The History of Credit Cards

Filed in: History, Merchant Accounts |

Credit card history can be traced as far back as the 1890’s in Europe. Credit itself historically dates back to 1700’s.

Texaco CardCredit cards were first used in the 1920’s in the United States where individual companies such as oil firms and hotel chains began issuing them to their customers. These cards were proprietary, and were more similar to what we would now call a loyalty card. The great depression, followed by world war two, created an enormous setback in the advancement of the credit card industry. This industry did pick back up when the country was back in a more stable condition at the end of world war two.

The first issued credit card appeared in the 1946 when Diners Club issued the Diners Club card in the United States. Diners Club cards were targeted at the restaurant industry, where patrons could pay with their card which was billed by Diners Club. Unlike the proprietary cards of the 1920’s, Diners Club cards could be used at any restaurant that accepted them. Diners Club cards are still used today, although the number of people using Diners Club cards has greatly depreciated over the years.

BankAmericardIn 1958, Bank of America and American Express both issued credit cards. These credit cards, The American Express Card, and the BankAmericard were the first bank issued cards, and their success was apparent almost overnight. In 1966, Bank of America allowed licensing of the BankAmericard card to help spread the BankAmericard, and settle and collect on a widespread basis. BankAmericard was later changed to the Visa card to separate the name Bank of America from the name of the card.

MasterCharge CardAlso in 1966, fourteen US banks formed an alliance called Interlink which enabled the ability to exchange information on credit card transactions. BankAmericard had virtually an exclusive market share until 1967. In 1967, MasterCharge, now known as MasterCard was a created as a collaboration in response to the success the BankAmericard. MasterCharge was made by 4 California banks, called the Western States BankCard Association.

Interestingly, both Visa and MasterCard were started as non-profit organizations. Visa and MasterCard issue credit cards through participating banks, which are for-profit. Visa and MasterCard board members were run by high ranking bank executives and were the governing bodies over the issuing of cards to their respective customers. BankAmericard was changed to Visa in 1976, and MasterCharge was changed to MasterCard in 1979.

In 1979, magnetic strips were added to the back of credit cards, in response to the creation of the electronic credit card terminal. The ability to process transactions electronically was another turning point in the evolution of the credit card industry.

See -> History of the Credit Card Terminal

By the mid 1970’s, banks had an unchecked power over issuing credit cards, and sending active cards through the mail was not an uncommon practice. During this time the government was forced to step in and regulate the issuing and collecting of credit cards. Again in 1995, the government was needed to regulate the amount and quantity of fees that banks could charge their customers. Banks changed penalty fees from $5 – $10 to $30 or more without precedence. Several court cases including the Smiley vs. Citibank case which went to the supreme court, caused the government to look closer at the practices of banks and their assessment of fees on their customers. Fees are interest rates which are still rising today, are watched very closely by the government to help protect consumers.

Credit card issuing, collecting, and acceptance are now regulated by several government bodies including the FCC (Federal Communications Commission ) and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).

From the 1970’s through today, credit card issuing and acceptance have seen massive growth across the globe. Nearly every person in America has a credit or debit card of some form. Additionally in 2004, the use of credit and debit cards surpassed cash and checks as the most commonly used form of payment in the US.

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