Since the spring, Visa U.S.A. has been cutting deals with banks that issue its credit cards and merchants that accept them, offering preferential pricing and the benefits of a closer working relationship in exchange for a tilt of loyalty to the Visa brand.

Under what Visa calls its partnership program, a bank making a five-year commitment to issue mostly Visa cards at the expense of MasterCard cards pays lower fees and gets as much personal hand-holding from the association as it wants.

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