Comparing No Annual Fee Credit Card Offers
Updated: June 19, 2018
Credit cards without an annual fee offer much-appreciated savings, a hassle-free experience and other benefits, say experts.
"Yearly fees prevent consumers from buying what they really want," says Julie Pukas, head of U.S. Bankcard and Merchant Solutions at TD Bank. "Our 2017 Consumer Spending Index revealed that millennials spend nearly $300 more than the average respondent on dining, a total of approximately $2,000 annually.
"Without the burden of an annual fee, consumers are able to spend money on the things they want while earning cash back on their purchases.
"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:
Take a look at our best cards with no annual fee and guide below and let us know if you have any other questions!
CreditCards.com's best no annual fee credit cards of 2018
|Card||Best Benefits||Annual Fee||CreditCards.com Rating|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Hotel booking and no foreign transaction fees||$0||3.8 / 5|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Pairing with Chase Sapphire Preferred||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Card||New cardholders looking to earn rewards while building credit||$0||N/A|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Amazon.com purchases and customer service||$0||4.1 / 5|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||Everyday spending at U.S. supermarkets||$0||3.7 / 5|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card||High rewards for gas and groceries||$0||4.0 / 5|
|Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Credit Card||Sizeable cash sign-up bonus of $200||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Chase Freedom®||Rotating 5% cash back categories||$0||3.3 / 5|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||2% cash back on all purchases||$0||3.9 / 5|
|The Amex Everyday® Credit Card from American Express||Balance transfers with long intro APR period||$0||2.6 / 5|
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
Details on our picks for the best no annual fee cards
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
- Solid sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles
- Unlimited 1.25 miles per dollar on all purchases
- Excellent rewards rate of 10 miles per dollar when booking and paying through hotels.com/venture
Bottom Line: As a card with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, the VentureOne® offers a ton of value. With an unbeatable rewards rate of 10 miles per dollar when booking and paying through hotels.com/venture, the VentureOne® is a favorite of frequent travelers.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
- Lengthy 0% intro APR period of 15 months, then 16.49% - 25.24% variable
- Cash back rewards never expire
Bottom Line: Backed by one of America's most popular banks, the Freedom Unlimited® card offers a $150 sign-up bonus for spending $500 in your first 3 months. In addition to its reliable 1.5% cash back on all purchases, the Freedom Unlimited® also doubles as a solid credit card for balance transfers.
Capital One® Quicksilver® Card
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fees
Bottom Line: The Capital One® Quicksilver® is a no hassle, no frills credit card that's perfect for credit card beginners and first-timers. There's also no need to worry about foreign transaction fees.
Discover it® Cash Back
- Cash back on rotating categories each quarter
- Discover matches all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year
- Rewards never expire and are easy to redeem at Amazon.com
Bottom Line: An excellent credit card for shoppers looking to maximize cash back, the Discover it® Cash Back offers a unique twist which its name alludes to: as an intro offer, Discover will automatically match all cash back earned on this card in your first year, essentially doubling your first year's earnings.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
- As its name suggests, great for everyday spending
- Generous 3% cash back rate at U.S. supermarkets
- Flexibility in rewards redemption
Bottom Line: The Blue Cash Everyday® is a quintessential card of the American shopper. Its cash back rewards at supermarkets and gas stations makes it a valuable credit card for newbies and seasoned cardholders alike.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card
- 3% cash back on gas, 2% cash back on groceries for the first $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter
- Extra perks for Bank of America checking/savings customers
- No rotating categories or expiration on rewards
Bottom Line: Comparable to everyday spending cards like the Blue Cash Everyday® from American Express, the Cash Rewards card offers 3% back on gas purchases and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (for the first $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter). Bank of America customers enjoy even more benefits, such as a 10% bonus when redeeming cash back into a Bank of America checking or savings account.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Credit Card
- $200 sign-up bonus
- Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases
- 1.8% cash back on mobile purchases in the first year
Bottom Line: The Wells Fargo Cash Wise®'s $200 sign-up bonus is larger than many comparable cards, although it requires you to spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Its flat-rate 1.5% cash back goes up to 1.8% when using mobile pay during the first year.
Citi® Double Cash Card
- Unlimited 2% cash back on every purchase: 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill each month
- Nice long 18-month intro 0% APR on balance transfers
- No annual fee
Bottom Line: The Citi Double Cash is the perfect card for those who want to "set it and forget it" – there's no need to keep track of rotating categories. Its 2% cash back on all purchases is quite generous and applies automatically.
- 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories
- Easy-to-hit sign-up bonus of $150
- Can redeem cash back with no minimum amount required
Bottom Line: Another staple of shopping enthusiasts' wallets, the Chase Freedom® competes with the likes of the Discover it® Cash Back in offering quarterly rotating categories for 5% cash back up to $1,500 in combined purchases. Its $150 sign-up bonus comes with a very attainable required spend of $500 in 3 months.
The Amex Everyday® Credit Card from American Express
- No fee on balance transfers initiated in your first 60 days
- 2x points at U.S. supermarkets
- Flexible points redemption
Bottom Line: Despite a smaller sign-up bonus than some of its brethren, the Amex Everyday® card is still a valuable addition thanks to its strong balance transfer offers. Namely, a $0 balance transfer fee for balance transfers requested in the first 60 days and a 0% intro APR period of 15 months.
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.
Some cards with annual fees waive the fee the first year, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards. Here are popular cards that waive the annual fee:
Popular cards that waive annual fee...
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||$95, waived first year||50,000 miles/$3,000 spend in 3 mths; 2X miles per dollar on every purchase|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||$95, waived first year||50,000 pts/$4,000 spend in 3 mths; 2X pts on worldwide travel, dining|
|Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express||$195, waived first year||25,000 pts/$2,000 spend in 3 mths; 3X pts, direct airline purchases; 2X pts, U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, U.S. supermarkets. Terms Apply|
Surprisingly few credit cards have an annual fee – only 24 out of 100 surveyed, according to a CreditCards.com study. Nine of the 24 lower or waive the fee for a new cardholder's first year. Annual fees can run as low as $25, which the Wells Fargo Secured card charges, to as high as $450, which the Citi Prestige card charges. Here are where the 100 cards surveyed stand with annual fees and other fees:
Survey of 100 cards and their fees...
- 24 cards
- Annual fee
- 99 cards
- Late payment fee
- 76 cards
- Balance transfer fee
- 56 cards
- Foreign transaction fee
- 98 cards
- Cash advance fee
- 4 cards
- Over-limit fee
- 80 cards
- Returned payment fee
Source: CreditCards.com survey
Pros and cons of a no annual fee card
A card with no annual fee has some clear advantages, but so do cards with annual fees. Here, we look at:
- Pros and cons of a no annual fee card
- When are no annual fee cards worth it?
- When are cards with annual fees worth it?
There are a variety of card types to choose from when it comes to cards with no annual fee, and it's an easy way to save a little money. But it does limit your options. Here's what we've found:
|Pros of cards with no annual fee||Cons of cards with no annual fee|
|One less fee to worry about||Lower sign-up bonus|
|Build credit||Fewer benefits|
|Most cashback cards have no annual fee||Ongoing rewards may be lower|
|Variety of cards available||Some great cards have annual fees|
When are no annual fee cards worth it?
Here, we take a deeper dive into the advantages of a card with no annual fee:
- Would a cashback card suit your needs? Most cashback cards offer no annual fee, yet they can have sign-up bonuses of up to $200, such as the Wells Fargo Cash Wise, and a couple offer 5% rotating categories, such as the Chase Freedom and the Discover it Cash Back (enroll each quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year).
- Are you primarily interested in building credit? If you aren't going to be putting much on your card each month, and are focused on building credit, it might be a good idea to pay in full each month ahead of the due date with a card that doesn't have an annual fee. That's just one less fee to worry about.
- Would waiving the fee make it worth your while? If you are interested in a card with an annual fee, but you don't relish the idea of paying up each year, consider asking for the fee to be waived. Surprisingly few people do this, according to our polling, yet most who ask, get what they want.
|Type of fee||Percent who asked||Percent who received (of those who asked)|
|Waive late fee||25%||87%|
|Waive annual fee||11%||51%|
|Lower interest rates||19%||69%|
|Increase credit limit||28%||89%|
Source: CreditCards.com poll
When are cards with annual fees worth it?
If you are willing to commit to a card with an annual fee, it can be worth it, provided you assess how much your savings would be with the rewards and benefits. And in some cases, the annual fee is waived the first year, thereby increasing the savings further. Here is when a card with an annual fee might be worth it to you:
- If the annual fee is waived. Sometimes, cards with annual fees waive the fee the first year of card membership, maximizing your savings.
- If you plan to spend a lot. Every card has a threshold that can make it worth your while to get a card with an annual fee.
- If the sign-up bonus is generous. Cards with annual fees can have superior sign-up bonuses, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, with its 50,000 points after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months of opening your account.
- If the ongoing rewards are particularly rich. The rewards for a card with an annual fee may be stronger than those with no annual fee, such as the Blue Cash Preferred's 6% back on U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 a year; and 3% on U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores.
- If the benefits are excellent. Look at the benefits of the cards you are eyeing, such as free first checked bag, free late check-out or an annual airline fee credit, such as the $100 annual airline fee credit of the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express.
Common benefits of a no annual fee card
From the choice in cards to the amount of spending, there are a number of benefits of a card with no annual fee. While the rewards may not be as generous as a card with an annual fee, it's still worth your while to compare. Here are common benefits of cards without annual fees:
- No ongoing charge. If you pay on time and in full each month, you can avoid late fees and interest charges, as well as no annual fee if that is a feature of the card.
- Good for the long term. If it's a card you plan to keep beyond the first year, but not one you plan to use aggressively, then a no annual fee card can be a good choice.
- A variety of types of cards. No annual fee cards can belong to categories like cash back, balance transfer, travel, and more.
- Good for small amounts of spending. If you don't plan to be a big spender with your card, you don't need a card with richer rewards, which often come with an annual fee.
- Nice rewards. No annual fee cards can offer 2% back flat rate, 5% back on select categories, $150 sign-up bonus and more.
When to downgrade to a card with no annual fee
While there are many good reasons for signing up for a card with an annual fee, there are times when a no annual fee card is the right choice. Here are times when it may be best to downgrade to a no annual fee card:
- Your rewards value doesn't add up. "Fee-based credit cards can offer some excellent rewards, but they aren't a one-size-fits-all solution," says financial writer and former banker Sandra Parsons of aTheoryofChange.com. "If you're paying an annual fee for your credit card, you need to crunch the numbers to make sure the value of the cash back or points you earn exceeds the value of the annual fee. If it does, then you want to check to make sure the net value of your rewards (accounting for the annual fee) is higher than the value you could earn with a no-fee card. If not, you would be better off switching."
- You have a high balance. If you have a balance you want to transfer to a 0% intro APR card, a balance transfer card without an annual fee can be a good choice, says Michael Tamez, investment blogger with Sunshine Gold Investments. That way, once you pay off the balance, you can continue to build credit without having to use the card heavily to pay for the annual fee.
- You use cash often. If you don't use your credit card often, and the annual fee is eating you up, the switch to a card with no annual fee may be the best option.
- You want the benefits without the fee. "The good news is that there are several no annual fee cards that offer amazing perks," says Ben Luthi, financial expert at Student Loan Hero. "Some offer high cashback rates and some even offer sign-up bonuses. And while you won't get a lot of the same perks that you'd get with a premium credit card, you can still get benefits like a 0% APR promotion on purchases and balance transfers, no foreign transaction fees, price protection, and rental car insurance."
- One final tip before making a decision. If you're thinking about switching cards, take advantage of the waived-fee period of some products first. Says Aaron Aggerwal, assistant vice president of credit cards at Navy Federal Credit Union: "Many credit card companies waive their annual fee in the first year, so use this time to test out your spending and see how to get the most out of your card." Then, you can decide if a card with no annual fee works best for you.
Avoiding annual fees tops our list of things we look for in credit cards, according to Experian polling. In fact, it beats rewards:
What we look for in our credit cards...
- No annual fee
- Low interest rate
Source: Experian survey
Benefit differences between cards with and without annual fees
Cards with annual fees frequently come with better sign-up bonuses and ongoing rewards, as we'll show you. But then, there is the plus of not having to pay a fee year after year.
Here, we compare 2 sets of cards from the same card issuers and even similar names. But heads up, because the rewards vary, even if the benefits are similar.
Comparing benefits between cards with and without annual fees...
|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); 2% back at U.S. gas stations, select U.S. department stores. Terms Apply||15-month 0% intro APR on purchases, balance transfers, then 14.74%-25.74% (Variable)|
|Blue Cash Preferred from American Express||$95||$200 intro bonus/$1,000 spend in first 3 mths; 6% back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000); 3% back at U.S. gas stations, select U.S. department stores. Terms Apply||12-month 0% intro APR on purchases, balance transfers, then 14.74%-25.74% (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||No foreign transaction fee|
|Capital One Venture Rewards||$95, waived first year||50,000-mile sign-up/$3,000 spend in 3 mths; 2X miles per dollar on every purchase||No foreign transaction fee|
As you can see, while the Venture cards have similar benefits, the Blue Cash products vary in the 0% APR offer, so it's worthwhile to read the fine print.
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 on groceries, 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. Also, the Preferred has a higher sign-up bonus than the Blue Cash Everyday.
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. Also, the $95 annual fee for the Venture Rewards is waived the first year. But what about after the first year?
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 choose between different no annual fee cards
Once you make the decision to get a card without an annual fee, you'll find that there is quite a variety.
You'll want to look at such issues as which categories the card rewards and whether there are any tricks, such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. Here are some tips:
- Are there specific categories? Check out the categories, such as groceries, restaurants, gas and more, because you can get rich rewards this way.
- Is there a sister card? If so, there might be one with a waived annual fee the first year, such as the Venture Rewards. Base which one you choose on how much you plan to spend.
- Could you build points by marrying cards? With the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, you can pair up select cards, transfer points to cards that have boosted rewards, and use the points toward travel. So, transfer your cash on your Chase Freedom to your Chase Sapphire Preferred, and use that transfer toward travel with the Preferred's 25% boost.
Pairing Chase Ultimate Rewards cards...
|Card||Rewards||Ultimate Rewards boost||Annual fee|
|Freedom||$150 sign-up/$500 spend in 3 mths; 5% back on quarterly categories, up to $1,500 a quarter||N/A||$0|
|Freedom Unlimited||$150 sign-up/$500 spend in 3 mths; 1.5% back on every purchase||N/A||$0|
|Sapphire Preferred||50,000-point sign-up/$4,000 spend in first 3 mths; 2X points on worldwide travel, dining||25%||$95, waived first year|
|Sapphire Reserve||50,000-point sign-up/$4,000 spend in 3 mths; 3X points on worldwide travel, dining; $300 annual travel credit||50%||$450|
- Are you looking for a flat rate? These cards are great for using the card without thinking about it – they can come with up to 2% cash back.
- Are there rich categories? A couple of cards offer rotating categories of 5% back. Be mindful of the requirements, though, because with these cards, you have to sign up for the new bonuses each quarter.
- Sign-up bonus? Many come with sign-up bonuses, which are worth comparing. Or you instead might get double cash back at the end of your first year, as with the Discover it cards, or double your cash when you pay your bill, as in the case of the Citi Double Cash.
Who should get a no annual fee card?
A no annual fee credit card is great for someone who is looking for a balance transfer card, trying to build credit or wants a rewards card without the hassle of an annual fee.
With a balance transfer card or 0% APR card, you avoid interest charges for a limited time – this may be a card you don't plan to use much in the future, so an annual fee isn't wanted.
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.
Finally, these cards can be great for building your credit, particularly when you pay in full and on time each month, thereby keeping your balance low.
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.
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