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Credit cards: Who owns your plastic?

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A Confused.com guide to which banks own which credit cards.

credit card chip

Your bank owns your credit card, right? Think again.

Just because a bank or a company has their name on your card, doesn’t mean they own it. That’s simply their way of branding.

In many cases, those so-called "white-label" credit cards are provided by a third party…but who?

Confused.com enters the maze of credit card ownership to find out which banks own which cards.

Who owns what? 

One of the UK’s biggest credit card providers is MBNA Europe Bank.

As well as offering its own-brand credit cards, it also provides plastic for:

  • Fluid credit cards.

  • A range of football-related affinity credit cards including Manchester United, Liverpool F.C., Arsenal and Chelsea. 

  • Charity credit cards including the WWF, the British Heart Foundation and The Royal British Legion.

  • Credit cards tied with airlines, such as Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and Etihad.

Barclaycard

Barclaycard is also a major card issuer, having acquired Discover Financial Services’ UK credit card portfolio in 2008.

While most of us may not have heard of Discover before, many of its brands are (or were) household names, such as Goldfish, Morgan Stanley and the Caravan Club.

Barclaycard has since rebranded all these cards to contain the Barclaycard name, but also provides a number of cards for third parties including Sky, Thomas Cook, Argos, Bhs and Hilton Hotels.

Multiple brands

A number of banks operate cards under several of their own brand names:

  • The Royal Bank of Scotland has credit cards bearing its own name and NatWest’s, as well as Mint.

  • The Bank of Ireland provides credit cards for the Post Office and the AA, as well as their own brand.

  • HBOS offers credit cards under both the Halifax and Bank of Scotland names, in addition to a range of affinity or co-branded cards.

  • HSBC supplies cards for their own brand and retailers John Lewis and M&S.

  • The Co-operative Bank has its own credit card and one under its Smile brand. It also has a number of affinity cards with charities including Amnesty International, Oxfam, the Woodland Trust and the RSPCA.

But who is the owner?

Just because two banks belong to the same banking group, doesn’t mean it’s safe to assume their credit cards have the same owner.

Lloyds TSB and Halifax are both owned by Lloyds Banking Group, but as they operate under separate banking licences, their credit cards are classed as having separate owners.

Abbey and Alliance & Leicester both belong to Spanish banking giant Santander. Abbey provides its own cards, but Alliance & Leicester cards are issued by MBNA.

Why it matters

So is it really that important to know who owns your plastic? The answer is yes. It’s of crucial importance, particularly if you want to take advantage of a balance transfer deal.

Many credit card providers tempt new customers to take out one of their cards by offering 0% interest on debt transferred from other providers.

But, in order to take advantage of the offer, a different group must own the card from which the debt is being transferred.

If you fail to check who owns which card before applying, you may find you can’t transfer your balance as planned. Not only does this mean you’re back to square one, making multiple credit card applications could damage your credit rating.

This could make it more difficult to take out a credit card, loan or mortgage in the future.

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