No Annual Fee Credit Cards

While many luxury credit cards charge an annual fee, there is a vast array of top tier credit cards that offer ample rewards without an annual fee. In fact, these include some of the best credit cards around. Find low rates, cash back, and rewards with the best no annual fee cards from our partners below.

While many luxury credit cards charge an annual fee, there is a vast array of top tier credit cards that offer ample rewards without an annual fee. In fact, these include some of the best credit cards around. Find low rates, cash back, and rewards with the best no annual fee cards from our partners below.

By: Laura Mohammad

|

June 18, 2020

Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards:

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

5%
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.
1%
Earn 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Cashback Match™

Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% variable

Excellent

Credit Recommended (740-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2%
Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
No current offer
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% (Variable)

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5%
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150

$150 after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% variable
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards Rate

3%
3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
2%
2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores.
1%
1% back on other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150

Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Rewards Rate

1.5%
Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on your purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150

Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 or more in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% variable

No Credit History

Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2%
Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
1%
Earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Cashback Match™

Intro Offer: Unlimited Cashback Match - only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year! There's no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
22.99% variable

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

2%
2% cash back rewards on eligible gas and grocery purchases as well as mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV services. Terms apply.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
No current offer
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
23.99% variable

Good to Excellent

Credit Recommended (670-850)

CreditCards.com credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Apply Now

Rewards Rate

3X
Earn 3X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy™.
2X
2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains).
1X
1X point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
50,000 Points

Limited Time Offer! Earn 50,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% variable

Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank's website for the most current information.

All information about Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card, Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card, Chase Freedom Unlimited®, and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


Comparing credit cards with no annual fee

Credit cards without an annual fee offer much-appreciated savings, a hassle-free experience and other benefits, say experts. In fact, the majority of our picks for the best credit cards have no annual fee.

“Yearly fees prevent consumers from buying what they really want,” says Julie Pukas, head of U.S. Bankcard and Merchant Solutions at TD Bank. She notes that millennials spend significantly more on dining than other consumers – TD Bank’s 2019 Consumer Spending index found that millennials spend annually almost $1,000 more on dining than Baby Boomers and more than $500 than Gen Xers.

“Some consumers may save their credit card rewards points so that they can pay off their annual fee,” says Pukas. “By switching to a card with no yearly fee, they can put those rewards to something they really want, like flights, dining out and more.”

The trick is to identify whether one suits your lifestyle. Here, we look at:


Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards

best no annual fee credit cards

Discover it® Cash Back

Why it’s the best no annual fee card for low interest

Whether you need to carry a balance long term, pay down debt or finance a larger purchase, the Discover it Cash Back should help you save on interest: The card not only features a low-end APR that’s much lower than the average cash back credit card APR, but also comes with a solid 0% introductory APR offer – 0% for 14 months on balance transfers and 0% for 14 months on purchases (then 11.99% - 22.99% Variable).

Pros

This card’s cash back match feature at the end of your first year can easily beat out other cash back cards’ sign-up bonuses. For example, while you would only get $150 back from the Capital One Quicksilver after a $500 spend within the first 3 months of card membership, you could potentially get $600 back the end of your first year with the Discover it Cash Back if you enroll quarterly and max out your 5% rotating category offer ($1,500 max spent each quarter comes to $75 back each quarter, $300 at the end of the year, then matched by Discover for a total of $600). Then earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases.

Cons

If it’s not your idea of fun to chase rotating categories, this isn’t the best choice for you. Not only do you need to keep track of which categories are active, but you have to sign up each quarter to activate those categories.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Why it’s the best no annual fee card for U.S. gas station and U.S. supermarket purchases

It’s hard to match the Blue Cash Everyday Card’s 3% cash back rate at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%) without paying an annual fee. If you max out this bonus category, you’ll earn close to $180 cash back per year. Plus, you get unlimited 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations.

Pros

Not only does this card have tiered ongoing rewards that more than compete with other cash back cards, the regular APR starts out quite low at 13.99%-23.99% Variable, which kicks in after a solid intro offer of 0% on purchases for 15 months.

Cons

The welcome offer has a high spend of $1,000 after the first 3 months, given the $150 you earn is pretty standard for cash back cards with no annual fee. Also, although the rewards are excellent for 3 key categories, it’s only 1% back on everything else.

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee card for travel rewards

Few travel cards offer such terrific everyday value without charging an annual fee. Since you’ll earn unlimited 3X points on dining, travel and transit, gas station purchases and select streaming services, you’ll have no trouble racking up points for a trip down the road. Carry-out and food delivery services like Uber Eats can earn rewards too!

Pros

Along with a sign-up bonus of 20,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months – worth $200 when redeemed as cash back or for travel – the card offers a number of compelling perks, including cell phone protection. Just pay your monthly cell phone bill with the Propel card and you can get reimbursed up to $600 if your phone is damaged or stolen ($25 deductible).

Cons

One of the few downsides of this card is that you cannot transfer your points to other loyalty programs. They must be redeemed through Go Far Rewards.

Citi® Double Cash Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee card for cash back

You’ll never be stuck with just 1% cash back because your spending doesn’t fit into a card’s bonus category. The Citi Double Cash Card offers a flat rate of up to 2% cash back on every single purchase (1% when you buy and 1% when you pay off those purchases), which matches the bonus cash back rate of many cards.

Pros

Along with its terrific ongoing cash back rate, the card comes with an APR of 0% intro for 18 months on Balance Transfers, then 13.99% - 23.99% (Variable), which could make all the difference if you need to hit pause on mounting interest charges and pay off debt. Plus, you can transfer your cash back to Citi ThankYou points at a rate of $1 cash back to 100 ThankYou points.

Cons

One of the card’s major flaws is its lack of a sign-up bonus. Many cash back cards offer a sign-up bonus of $150 or more if you meet spending requirements in the first few months. Also, there’s no 0% introductory APR offer on new purchases, so it won’t be of much help if you need to finance a larger purchase.

American Express Cash Magnet® Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee card for 0% intro purchase APR

The American Express Cash Magnet features an intro APR of 0% on purchases for 15 months (it’s 13.99%-23.99% Variable APR after that).

Pros

This no annual fee card’s welcome offer and ongoing rewards are solid – earn $150 cash back after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months, and earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

Cons

If you are looking for a card to carry in your wallet while overseas, the Cash Magnet may not be the best choice – not only does American Express not have much of a presence abroad, but this card has a foreign transaction fee of 2.7% (see rates and fees).

Citi Rewards+℠ Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee card for bonus rewards

This card offers a generous bonus rewards system: You’ll earn 15,000 ThankYou points if you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. And on top of that, you’ll earn 10% points back on the ThankYou points that you redeem (up to 100,000 points per year). You can redeem these points on Amazon, which is a great perk if you’ve been doing most of your shopping online lately.

Pros

The rewards rate on this card can bring a lot of value to your everyday spending: You’ll get 2 ThankYou points per dollar at supermarkets and gas stations (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1x points) and 1 ThankYou point per dollar on all other purchases. On top of that, every purchase you make is rounded up to the nearest 10 points. So for example: A $2 dollar purchase earns 10 points, or a $13 purchase earns 20 points.

Cons

If you’re considering booking travel in the future with the points you earn, you can only book through the ThankYou travel portal. Also, the redemption value for your points is only high on gift cards and travel purchases, so that is something to keep in mind given our current travel restrictions.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee card for new cardholders

It doesn’t get much simpler than this: Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, no matter where or when you make them. No need to track spending, enroll in bonus categories or deal with complicated cash back redemption. Redeem in any amount, any time.

Pros

The Quicksilver’s unlimited flat cash back rate makes it a great choice for everyday spending, and earning the card’s sign-up bonus should be no trouble. You’ll score $150 after spending just $500 in the first 3 months.

Cons

The go-to variable rate after the 15-month 0% intro APR purchase offer ends is crazy high, at 15.49%-25.49% variable, which means this is not a card you want to carry a balance on.

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee card for dining

The Capital One SavorOne leads the pack for its rewards, particularly dining and entertainment – it’s 3% for those categories. Also, earn 2% cash back at grocery stores. It’s 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Pros

Another restaurant-friendly feature of this card: You can make reservations on the fly at elite restaurants throughout the country with Capital One’s OpenTable partner Premium Access program when it reopens.

Cons

If you anticipate that you might carry a balance from time to time, this card may not be the best choice, with a regular APR of 15.49%-25.49% Variable. Other no-annual-fee cards can be found with a lower interest rate, such as Blue Cash Everyday (13.99%-23.99% Variable) or Discover it Cash Back (11.99%-22.99% Variable).

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee card for no foreign transaction fee

Although travel isn’t encouraged for the time being, VentureOne is a great choice for international travel since Visa cards are accepted in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. The VentureOne also doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee (many cards charge a fee of 3% or more for each purchase made abroad).

Pros

Like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, VentureOne Rewards partners with more than 10 international airlines, including Alitalia and Etihad, yet the VentureOne offers no annual fee. Unlike the Venture card, VentureOne also comes with a 12-month 0% intro APR on purchases and lower ongoing interest (15.49%-25.49% Variable ongoing).

Cons

With a lackluster 20,000 miles bonus after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months and only 1.25X miles for all spending, the VentureOne Rewards card is really for the occasional traveler who won’t be racking up a lot of travel expenses to justify an annual fee. Fortunately, this makes it perfect for building miles toward future travel on today’s expenses at home.

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Why it’s the best credit card for no credit history

Despite the fact that no credit history is needed, cardholders can enjoy the same 5% rotating category cash back (up to $1,500 per quarter, then 1%, after activating) and first-year Cashback Match™ bonus as Discover it® Cash Back cardholders with good to excellent credit. However, students can also enjoy yearly $20 statement credits for the next 5 years if they earn a 3.0 or higher GPA.

Pros

Minimal fees – no annual, over-limit, and foreign transaction fees – cushion beginners learning the credit ropes. Additional forgiving perks like no penalty APR or fee on the first late payment prevent one slip-up from affecting their credit card statement. Plus, parents can rest easy knowing Discover’s comprehensive identity theft protection and credit monitoring services are backed up by J.D. Power’s 2019 top customer satisfaction rank.

Cons

You’ll have to wait till the end of your first year for the cash back intro offer, and the 0% intro APR period is on purchases for only 6 months. However, limited-credit card options are usually scarce on intro bonus and 0% APR offers to begin with. It’s definitely worth mentioning that the card charges outstandingly low interest without needing credit history (12.99% - 21.99% Variable ongoing).

Discover it® Secured

Why it’s the best credit card for bad credit

Your initial security deposit can be up $2,500, meaning that you can have a high-limit secured card to boost your score with a lower credit utilization ratio. Eagle-eyed cardholders can also track the results of their good payment habits with Discover’s extensive credit monitoring and account alert services in order to graduate to an unsecured card each month (starting at eight months).

Pros

Unlike many secured cards, Discover it® Secured offers impressive cash back rewards: 2% at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 per quarter in purchases), 1% back on all other purchases and first-year cash back matching for double rewards. With no annual, foreign transaction, overlimit and penalty APR fees, cardholders can enjoy a safety net while rebuilding their credit – even for their first late payment.

Cons

Even with the 10.99% 6-month intro APR on balance transfers (no 0% APR period), the ongoing APR is a bit steep at 22.99% variable.

Capital One® Platinum Credit Card

Why it’s the best credit card for fair/average credit

The Platinum Card is a laser-focused option for fair credit holders working to quickly switch to a higher-caliber card. With limited fees to block your path, cardholders with responsible use can earn access to a higher credit line account review in as little as their sixth on-time payment.

Pros

No annual fee, foreign transaction fees or security deposit make credit management a much easier process for cardholders looking to avoid whopping security deposits. Plus, there is no penalty APR or returned payment fee in case you make an accounting error. Even mainstay Capital One benefits like 24-hour roadside assistance and auto rental coverage are available to Platinum cardholders with average credit.

Cons

Unfortunately, the Platinum card doesn’t earn rewards. Since a security deposit isn’t needed, the card also has a guaranteed $300 minimum credit limit. This means that users starting off with only the minimum limit don’t have much wiggle room – especially since the higher credit utilization ratio and the risk of overlimit spending could hamper your credit score growth.

Compare the Best Credit Cards with No Annual Fee

Credit Card Best For Annual Fee Our Rating
Discover it® Cash Back Low interest $0 4.3 / 5
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express U.S. Gas and U.S. Supermarket $0 3.7 / 5
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card Travel rewards $0 3.5 / 5
Citi® Double Cash Card Cash back $0 3.8 / 5
American Express Cash Magnet® Card 0% intro purchase APR For 15 months, then 13.99% – 23.99% variable APR. $0 4 / 5
Citi Rewards+℠ Card Bonus rewards $0 3.0 / 5
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card New cardholders $0 3.4 / 5
Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card Dining $0 3.8 / 5
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card No foreign transaction fee $0 3.5 / 5
Discover it® Student Cash Back No credit $0 4.2 / 5
Discover it® Secured Bad credit $0 4.1 / 5
Capital One® Platinum Credit Card Fair credit $0 3.7 / 5

Methodology

With the literal thousands of no annual fee cards to explore, deciding which option should earn a slot in your wallet – without a reward-eating price tag – can be a tough call. We examined 2,744 credit cards to narrow down the best 9 to match your spending habits. See our no annual fee credit card rating process for detailed criteria and more detail on our review scores.

No annual fee credit cards analyzed: 2,744

Criteria used: Rates and fees, rewards rates, sign-up bonus, other promotional offers, redemption options and flexibility, regular APR, extra features and benefits, customer service, credit needed, security, ease of application, ability to upgrade

What is an annual fee?

An annual fee on a credit card is a charge made each anniversary year. An annual fee might be charged on a credit-builder card, a rewards card or a luxury card, for example. Typically, you are benefiting in some fashion for having the card, such as when it’s a hotel or airline card. In fact, we found in our November 2019 credit card fees survey that most annual fee credit cards are travel cards. In our survey, we found that 26 of the 100 cards we surveyed had annual fees, unchanged from the previous year.

Who should get a no annual fee credit card?

New credit card users

If you’ve never held a card before, you might want to jump in with a card that has no annual fee until you better understand the market. That way, you can get in the habit of remembering those monthly payments, keeping track of your expenses and searching for the next upgrade, be it a travel card or a 0% intro APR card.

People who need to consolidate debt

Already hold cards and want to consolidate those balances? There are a host of cards that offer 0% intro APR on balance transfers, such as the Citi® Diamond Preferred® card, with a 18-month offer for balance transfers (14.74% – 24.74% variable).

Occasional credit card users

If you only plan to use your card occasionally, a card with no annual fee is probably best, because you would need to spend a minimum on a card with an annual fee to make it worth your while.

Cards without annual fees can also be easier to get, because they sometimes require a lower credit score. If you need a secured card or a card for bad or fair credit, you’ll want to see if there is an annual fee, which can be another cost when cash is short.

Also, while many rewards cards have annual fees, there are some without one, which is ideal if you don’t plan to use the card extensively.

Common benefits of a no annual fee card

Rewards

You don’t have to get a credit card with an annual fee to enjoy rewards. Most cash back cards, such as the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards, don’t have an annual fee, and there are a couple of travel cards with no annual fee for the forward-looking traveler focused on daily-living expenses, such as the Capital One VentureOne Rewards.

Free credit score

Many cards, such as the Discover it Cash Back card, now offer a free credit score monthly or quarterly without you taking a hit to your credit.

Car rental insurance & roadside assistance

Called secondary auto insurance, cards like Chase Freedom Unlimited allow you to use this product as a supplementary item to your primary insurance. Some no annual fee cards also offer roadside assistance for such events as towing, fuel delivery and tire changing.

Concierge service

Some no annual fee cards such as the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, offer comprehensive, personalized assistance in dining, entertainment and travel 24 hours a day.

Building credit

If you get a credit card for credit building that has no annual fee, that’s one less fee to worry about. In addition, you can find credit-builder cards that have minimal fees, such as the Discover it® Secured and the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®.

What to do if you’re unhappy with your annual fee card

If you’ve committed to a card with an annual fee and now you’re feeling a bit trapped, there are actually ways to get out of the annual fee without harming your credit.

Option 1: Downgrade the card

If you’re unsatisfied with the card and perks, instead of closing the card, call the card’s issuer and request a product change to downgrade to a card with no annual fee, advises Chelsea Hudson, personal finance expert with TopCashback.com. This will allow you to skip the annual fee without affecting your credit score.

If you want certain benefits of the older card, such as the credit limit, you’ll want to stay within product groups. So, for example you wouldn’t transition as a downgrade from the Chase Sapphire Reserve to a Southwest card, although you might downgrade to a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

When you downgrade, everything transfers to the new card, including account number, credit line, payment history, even length of time you have had the card active. The payment history and length of history are particularly important, because those impact your credit, and by retaining these with a product change, you keep them beyond 10 years on your credit file. Also, by maintaining the credit line, you keep your credit utilization ratio low, provided your balances are low, which is another important part of maintaining a healthy score.

Option 2: Close the card

If your wallet is weighed down with cards, closing the card with an annual fee can be an option. You’ll want to pay off any debt (don’t just transfer it to another card) and make sure you don’t have high debt in your combined cards, because that can impact your credit utilization ratio, and therefore, your credit score. Also, think twice before closing an older card, because your oldest card and your average age are factored into your credit.

Option 3: Ask for the annual fee to be waived

There’s another little-known option – simply ask your issuer to waive the annual fee. The answer may surprise you. In fact, we found that 70% of consumers who asked successfully had their annual fees waived or lowered.

Cardholders who asked…

  • Received a higher credit limit
  • 85%
  • Got a late fee waived
  • 84%
  • Got an annual fee waived or lowered
  • 70%
  • Got a lower interest rate
  • 56%

Source: CreditCards.com study

Is it worth getting a card with an annual fee?

To know if a credit card annual fee is worth it, you’ll have to take a close look at a card’s features and decide if the rewards and benefits you’ll get justify paying a fee. This is sometimes easier said than done, since issuers often offer 2 versions of a similar card – one with an annual fee and one without – making it hard to tell at a glance which is a better fit.
If you’re debating whether it’s worth paying a credit card annual fee, consider the following:

  • Sign-up bonus –- Cards with annual fees usually come with more lucrative sign-up bonuses, which can eclipse the fee in the first year. That’s doubly true if the card offers to waive the annual fee for the first year. That said, you can’t expect to get a huge bonus every year to offset the card’s annual fee, so you’ll have to be sure its other features make it a good fit long term.
  • Ongoing rewards and bonus categories – Cards with annual fees often feature higher ongoing rewards rates or unique bonus categories that can help offset a fee even after year one. Take a look at your spending habits and see how they line up with a card’s bonus categories. If you can pick out your largest expenses and find a card that offers rewards bonuses in that category of spending, the annual fee may pay for itself and then some.
  • 0% APR – No annual fee cards may also save you money each year with longer 0% APR periods. Of the 100 most popular credit cards studied in our 2020 Balance Transfer Survey, 38 offered 0% balance transfer APR deals and only two were premium cards. Annual fee cards also tend to offer shorter 0% APR terms than their no annual fee counterparts. In the comparison below, the no annual fee Blue Cash Everyday card offers a 15-month 0% intro APR for purchases (then 13.99%-23.99% variable), while the $95 annual fee Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers a 12-month period on purchases (then 13.99%-23.99% variable).
  • Ongoing interest – Since some annual fee cards may not offer a 0% APR or even allow you to transfer to the card, it’s important to compare ongoing interest rates. No annual fee cards’ ongoing APRs may often be lower than their premium siblings. For instance, if you’re comparing the Venture and VentureOne cards, VentureOne’s lowest rate (15.49%-25.49% variable) is much lower than Venture’s (17.24%-24.49% variable). Plus, VentureOne is the only card of the two with an intro APR offer.
  • Perks & benefits – In addition to large sign-up bonuses and inflated rewards rates, cards with an annual fee often feature unique and potentially very valuable perks for cardholders. Many cards offer benefits like airport lounge access or credits for dining, transportation and expedited security screening. Depending on your lifestyle, these perks alone could help justify the cost of an annual fee.

To help clarify things further, let’s go through the process with a few cards, comparing no annual fee cards with cards that charge an annual fee and noting the differences in rewards, benefits and net earnings. We’ll use one of each type from American Express and Capital One as examples.

Comparing benefits between cards with and without annual fees…

Card Annual fee Rewards Benefits
Blue Cash Everyday from American Express $0 $150 intro bonus/$1,000 spend in first 3 mths; 3% back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1% after that); 2% back at U.S. gas stations, select U.S. department stores. Terms Apply 15-month 0% intro APR on purchases, then 13.99%-23.99% (Variable)
Blue Cash Preferred from American Express $95 $250 intro bonus/$1,000 spend in first 3 mths; 6% back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1% after that), select U.S. streaming subscriptions; 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit. Terms Apply 12-month 0% intro APR on purchases, then 13.99%-23.99% (Variable)
Capital One VentureOne Rewards $0 20,000-mile sign-up/$1,000 spend in 3 mths; 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase 12-month 0% intro APR on purchases, then 15.49%-25.49% (Variable)
Capital One Venture Rewards $95 50,000-mile sign-up/$3,000 spend in 3 mths; 2X miles per dollar on every purchase No 0% intro APR offer

As you can see, while the Blue Cash products have the same ongoing interest but vary on the 0% APR offer, VentureOne has a unique 0% APR perk and slightly lower interest compared to the Venture card. As expected, the rewards are better on the cards with an annual fee, but it’s worthwhile to read the fine print when it comes to ongoing interest.

Which is better: annual fee or no annual fee?

While cards with annual fees often have superior benefits, money can be saved with a card that has no annual fee.

You can save money by avoiding an annual fee if you don’t plan to spend too high of an amount. For example, with the Blue Cash Everyday, which has no annual fee, and the Blue Cash Preferred, which has a $95 annual fee, with a $3,200 spend at U.S. supermarkets, the Blue Cash cards come out within a penny of each other.

Blue Cash Everyday vs. Blue Cash Preferred…

Card Cash back Total minus annual fee
Blue Cash Everyday 3% x $3,200=$96 $96
Blue Cash Preferred 6% x $3,200=$192 $97

If you spend less, the Blue Cash Everyday is worth your while. If you spend more, then the Blue Cash Preferred is the best pick.

Take another example. The Capital One Venture Rewards has a significantly higher sign-up bonus than the Capital One VentureOne Rewards – 50,000 miles as opposed to 20,000.

VentureOne Rewards vs. Venture Rewards…

Card Cash back Total minus annual fee
VentureOne Rewards 1.25 miles x $12,750=$159 $159
Venture Rewards 2 miles x $12,750=$255 $160

So, you see that the VentureOne Rewards is worth your while if you plan to spend less than $12,750 a year after the first year.

How to pair no annual fee and annual fee cards

You’ve practiced on your no annual fee card, and you feel you have this rewards thing down. Now it’s time to think more strategically. It’s time to look at pairing cards.

While a no annual fee card can have great cash back rewards on all spending or even specific categories, it may not have the outsized rewards of a travel card. With a travel card, you can get travel and purchase benefits, travel credits, even credits with Uber – all things you likely won’t get with your cash back card. You can even use those extra Uber credits for food delivery!

But if you play it right, you can use the cash back, no annual fee card for all spending, and use the travel card to get a sizable sign-up bonus with your favorite hotel or airline brand — as well as outstanding ongoing rewards for that brand when you’re planning out your next vacation.

For example, the Wells Fargo Cash Wise will earn you 1.5% cash rewards on all purchases, while the Chase Sapphire Preferred gives you 2X points on travel and dining. Simply use the CSP for those purchases and the Cash Wise for everything else. In addition to the ongoing rewards, the Sapphire Preferred card will earn you 60,000 points after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months.

What to know when pairing Chase cards

When pairing no annual fee cards and annual fee cards, there is no comparison when looking at the Chase cards.

Through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, you can get the added travel bonus points of the Sapphire cards. In fact, the Sapphire Reserve, delivers a 50% bonus on points when you redeem for travel through Ultimate Rewards.

Frequently asked questions

Is a no annual fee credit card the same as a free credit card?

Even if a credit card has no annual fee, it is most certainly not a “free” credit card, primarily because if you carry a balance, you may incur interest charges.

Then there are the other fees you’ll find. In November 2019, we surveyed 100 cards and we counted 438 potential fees listed on new cardholders’ credit card agreements, including not only annual fees, but balance transfer fees, cash advance fees and penalty fees. So an annual fee is only one aspect of the charges you can face with a credit card.

Can you get a no annual fee credit card with bad credit?

It’s rare, but there are credit cards without an annual fee for consumers with bad credit and even no credit history. In some cases, they even have rewards. For example, the Discover it Student Cash Back offers no annual fee as well as 5% cash back on rotating categories up to $1,500 spend a quarter (1% back after that), with a required quarterly sign up.

Do you have to pay an annual fee when you don’t use the credit card?

If you have a credit card with an annual fee, you are responsible for paying the fee even if you don’t use the card. However, there are ways to avoid paying the fee – for example, we’ve found that you have a strong chance of having your annual fee waived simply by asking the card issuer to do so. And then there is the card that waives the annual fee the first year. We found that of 100 cards surveyed in November 2019, 9 of those cards waived the annual fee the first year.

Want some more information?

Check out our reviews for no annual fee cards to explore more credit card offers that waive that cost every year.


Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura’s work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at laura.mohammad@creditcards.com and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.


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