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Understanding third-party American Express cards

Many American Express cards are issued by a separate bank – here’s how they work

Summary

American Express is both a payment-processor and a card-issuer, so many American Express cards are issued by a third-party. Discover the difference between American Express-issued cards and American Express third-party cards.

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American Express cards offer some of the best rewards rates and benefits you can find on a credit card, but not every card labeled American Express is actually issued by the institution.

Amex is both a card payment-processor and a card issuer – making it a bit confusing to understand just where you should make payments and redeem rewards when you see the American Express logo on the front of your card.

While it is true that American Express offers their own line of rewarding credit cards, many American Express cards are issued by a third-party – like Bank of America, Wells Fargo or U.S. Bank. When you sign up for an American Express card through another bank’s site, the bank is the card issuer. You’ll redeem your rewards with that bank and use the issuer’s account portals. Read on to learn more about how third-party American Express cards work.

What is a third-party American Express card?

A third-party American Express card is a credit card that is processed by American Express (rather than Visa or Mastercard) but is not issued by American Express. For example, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card is issued by Wells Fargo – despite having Amex in its name. That means it earns Go Far Rewards points rather than Membership Rewards. All payments toward your card balance and rewards redemptions are processed by Wells Fargo. Then – like with a Visa or Mastercard issued by a bank – merchant transactions are processed by American Express.

Because a third-party American Express card is designed by the card issuer – not American Express – the card’s benefits and protections are also determined by the card issuer. So while you might enjoy perks like roadside assistance or extended warranty, you’ll need to reference the card benefits guide issued by your bank rather than the American Express benefits site.

Keep these things in mind if you have a third-party American Express card

Because third-party American Express cards are issued by the bank, you’ll redeem any rewards through your issuer’s portal – not the Membership Rewards portal. You’ll utilize your bank’s account portal, app and any additional programs.

Similarly, if you have a question about your card, you’ll utilize the card issuer’s customer service. If you have the Wells Fargo Propel card, for example, you can find answers to your questions on the Wells Fargo site or by calling the Wells Fargo customer service line.

Additionally, just because a card is an American Express card does not mean that it is a charge card. In fact, most third-party American Express cards are traditional credit cards.

Popular third-party American Express cards

Pros and cons of carrying a third-party American Express card

For the most part, carrying a card processed by Visa, Mastercard or American Express doesn’t make much of a difference. However, there are a few pros and cons to keep in mind. For example, third-party American Express cardholders can take advantage of card-linked offers through American Express Connect.

On the downside, American Express cards are not as widely accepted by merchants as Visa or Mastercard cards are – especially when traveling abroad. This can be a deterrent for frequent international travelers.

American Express-issued cards

While American Express cards are often issued by a third-party, you can also find great cards issued directly by American Express. With these cards, you’ll utilize the American Express app, website and rewards portal to manage all your benefits. American Express cards also have full access to Amex Offers, American Express Travel and any other Amex offerings.

Though American Express is well-known for issuing charge cards – like the American Express® Gold Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express – the issuer also offers many credit cards with great rewards rates. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers one of the best earning rates you can find on U.S. supermarket purchases and select U.S. streaming service subscriptions. Amex also offers co-branded cards for several hotel brands and airlines – such as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card.

Final thoughts

Whether you carry a Visa, Mastercard or Amex, there are plenty of perks to enjoy. Just be sure you know who issues your credit card, so you can take full advantage of rewards programs and benefits.

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Published: June 4, 2019

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