Credit cards (as we know them today) were first introduced in 1958 in the USA by the Bank of America. The first outside the USA was the launch of Barclaycard in 1966 by Barclays bank. In 1967 a rival to the Bank of America System called Mastercharge was created and in the UK the Access credit card was first introduced in 1972 by a consortium of the other major UK banks. The Bank of America and Barclaycard payment systems have evolved into the Visa network, whilst Mastercharge and the Access brand have evolved into MasterCard. Any card issued in the UK today will usually include a Visa or MasterCard logo. The exception being cards issued by American Express which can only be used in establishments that accept their cards. There is a fourth smaller network in the USA called Discover.
All major banks and some building societies in the UK offer cards to existing and new customers. Many offer both Visa and MasterCard networks and it is quite common to have one account, with individual Visa and MasterCard cards.
In the 1980s the gold and platinum cards were introduced to the market. Initially these were offered to customers who had a high income. They often included a higher than normal credit limit. There was usually an annual fee attached to the card. The charging of a fee enabled the issuer to offer special benefits such as free travel insurance to the holder as well as lower interest rates if the full balance was not paid off each month.
Nowadays, the difference between a gold or platinum card and a normal card has diminished. Simplistically, a gold card will offer the customer a reduced interest rate and longer interest free period for a balance transfer when compared to those of a normal card. The platinum card will offer even better terms than those available to a gold card. Some gold and platinum cards give the holder additional benefits such as discounts for purchases through selected companies. Most issuers have ceased the practice of charging an annual fee for the holding of a gold or platinum credit card.
Applying for a gold or platinum credit card is easy. Generally there are set minimum income levels required and usually a better than average credit history before a card is issued to the customer. The minimum monthly repayment requirements will normally be similar to those of a standard credit card. Some issuers still offer special discounts or other benefits to the gold and platinum credit card holders, but this practice is much less common than the days that they were first introduced. Often the initial credit limit is higher on a gold card than for a normal card, and with a platinum card it can be even higher.