Comparing No Annual Fee Credit Card Offers
Updated: August 1, 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:
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.
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. However, surprisingly few credit cards have an annual fee – only 24 out of 100 surveyed, according to a CreditCards.com study. Nine of those 24 lower or waive the fee for a new cardholder's first year. Among those cards with no annual fee, there are some standouts that offer truly impressive value – take a look at our favorites and let us know if you have any questions!
CreditCards.com's best no annual fee credit cards
|Card||Best For||Annual Fee||Our Rating|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Hotel booking||$0||3.8 / 5|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Pairing with Chase Sapphire Preferred||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Capital One® Quicksilver® Card||New cardholders||$0||N/A|
|Discover it® Cash Back||Amazon.com purchases||$0||4.1 / 5|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||Overall value||$0||4.3 / 5|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||Gas||$0||3.9 / 5|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||2% cash back on all purchases||$0||3.9 / 5|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||Groceries||$0||3.7 / 5|
|Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card||Sizeable cash sign-up bonus||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Chase Freedom®||Rotating 5% cash back categories||$0||3.3 / 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 top picks
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards
This card's 1.25X miles for all purchases is augmented with 10X miles on hotels booked through hotels.com/venture. There's also a sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles after a $1,000 spend within 3 months, making it competitive with other travel cards without an annual fee. As a card with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, the VentureOne offers a ton of value.
Bottom line: With an unbeatable rewards rate of 10X miles when booking and paying through hotels.com/Venture, the VentureOne is a favorite of frequent travelers.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
This card's straightforward 1.5% back on all purchases makes it easy to manage. There's also a $150 intro bonus after a $500 spend within 3 months of card membership. If travel is your thing, know that this card can be partnered with a Sapphire product, allowing you to get a 25%-50% bonus when redeeming for travel at Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Bottom line: The Chase Freedom Unlimited is the trifecta – it's a cash back card, a card with travel benefits, as well as a solid credit card for balance transfers, with 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (then 16.74% - 25.49% variable).
Capital One® Quicksilver® Card
The Quicksilver goes toe-to-toe with the Freedom Unlimited, including 1.5% back on all purchases and no annual fee. There's also no need to worry about 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.
Discover it® Cash Back
This card's double cash back feature is unique in that there is no sign-up bonus, but you can earn up to $600 at year-end. Here's how: Enroll in and max out the 5% rotating categories with $1,500 spend a quarter, bringing your cash back to $300 for the year. Then at the end of your first year of card membership, you earn another $300. With this card, you can redeem at any time. Also, the Discover cards offer Social Security number monitoring, making your identity that much safer.
Bottom line: An excellent credit card for shoppers looking to maximize cash back, the Discover it Cash Back offers the twist of matching your cash back at the end of your first year.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card is among our top cards for a simple reason: it offers the most value. The size of its sign-up bonus (30K points, redeemable for $300, after spending $3,000 in your first 3 months) is more typically found among credit cards that charge an annual fee. The same can be said of its strong 3X rewards on travel, dining, and popular streaming services.
Bottom line: The Wells Fargo Propel card is leaps and bounds above the traditional options in the no annual fee category.
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
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). The sign-up bonus is $200 after a $500 spend within the first 3 months of card membership, a lower spend than the Blue Cash Everyday.
Bottom line: Comparable to everyday spending cards like the Blue Cash Everyday from American Express, the Cash Rewards card offers even more benefits, such as a 10% bonus when redeeming cash back into a Bank of America checking or savings account.
Citi® Double Cash Card
Essentially a flat-rate card, the Double Card gives you 1% back when you make purchases, then another 1% when you pay for them. This 2% cash back on all purchases is quite generous and applies automatically. There's no sign-up bonus, but the 0% intro APR on balance transfers is a whopping 18 months, after which the regular variable APR of 15.24% - 25.24% applies. For those looking for a long 0% balance transfer offer, this product delivers.
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.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
The BCE excels at cash back at everyday purchases, offering 3% back at U.S. supermarkets and 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. As such, it should be the go-to card you pull out when you reach the checkout line at your local grocery store. Just keep in mind that there is an annual limit of $6,000 in supermarket purchases on which the 3% cash back rate will apply; after you hit this limit, you'll earn 1% back just as you would on general purchase. However, this limit should be more than sufficient for most people.
Bottom line: The king of cash back at U.S. supermarkets, this card is a must-have for every family.
Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card
This card's generous $200 cash back after a $1,000 spend within your first 3 months makes it a standout, and its 1.5% cash back rewards are comparable to the Freedom Unlimited. Its flat-rate 1.5% cash back goes up to 1.8% when using mobile pay during the first year, making it a good choice for the shopper on the go.
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.
Like the Freedom Unlimited, this card can be partnered with a Sapphire travel card, gaining you access to those cards' bonuses when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Its intro bonus also comes with a very attainable required spend.
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 cash back categories. Its $150 intro bonus comes with a very attainable required spend of $500 in 3 months.
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.
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.
When to upgrade or downgrade to a card with no annual fee
Maybe you're sick of paying an annual fee each year. Or perhaps you are thinking about chasing more lucrative rewards. Either way, there are a few things to know. There are pros and cons of making the transition to or from a no annual fee card, because we want to do more than just live with our cards – we want to embrace them:
When to downgrade
Had it with that annual hit to the credit card you rarely use? It may be time to downgrade. We turned to the experts to find out what they had to say about downgrading. Here's what they told us:
- You don't use the perks. "A good time to downgrade to a no annual fee card is when the annual fee outweighs the perks," says Chelsea Hudson, personal finance expert with TopCashback.com. "Many rewards cards often waive the first-year fee, allowing consumers to earn rewards and take a trial run at no expense. But typically, after 12 months of holding the card, users will be charged an annual fee. If you're unsatisfied with the card and perks, instead of closing the card, call the card's issuer and downgrade to a card with no annual fee. This will allow you to skip the annual fee without affecting your credit score."
- You are carrying 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 find yourself reaching for cash. 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 cash back 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 more thing. 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. Heads up that you might be able to get the annual fee waived after the first year. In fact, we found that 70% of those who asked got their annual fee waived.
When to upgrade
"A good time to upgrade your credit card is when you're in the market for better benefits and rewards," says Hudson.
"A credit card upgrade could give you access to a better card, without requiring you to apply for a new line of credit. It's best to upgrade any starter card when more options are available to you and you've been a responsible borrower," Hudson says.
"If you feel like you're ready to take on a credit card with more rewards features, then it's time to upgrade from a cash back card to a travel rewards card," says J.R. Duren, credit card analyst with HighYa.com. "A good example of this would be someone who is using a Chase Freedom Unlimited card and wants to upgrade to the United MileagePlus Explorer card.
"You need to know though that, in general, your travel rewards upgrade is going to come with disadvantages. First, there's a really good chance your APR will be higher. Credit card companies pay airlines for the points they offer and APR is one way they can earn that money back," says Duren.
"Another thing you'll need to know is that you'll probably pay between $90 and $100 a year for the new annual-fee card. In most cases, though, the credit card company will waive that fee as part of an ongoing promotion for the card," says Duren.
How a product change works
Upgrades and downgrades are typically within product groups, although you can simply take out a new card that better suits your needs, if that's the right thing for you.
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 Sapphire Preferred card.
There are some definite advantages to upgrading and downgrading, including the ability to keep your account number, according to Million Mile Secrets. There may also be a bonus for upgrading, which we'll get into.
"If you're considering downgrading or upgrading your credit card, call the number on the back of your card to verify that you're eligible," says Hudson. "While there is no hard rule to determine your eligibility, each card issuer has its own policy. However, credit card issuers may be more willing to accommodate customers who make their monthly payments on time and accounts are in good standing."
When you upgrade
When you upgrade, you might take a small ding to your credit (about 10-15 points) because of a hard inquiry, depending on the issuer, but that is temporary. According to Million Mile Secrets, when you upgrade, you carry with you your account number and your account history.
There can be bonuses that are separate from sign-up bonuses when you are a new card applicant, so ask.
Also, it's a good idea to check online in your issuer's portal to see if there are any offers you qualify for. The offer will probably be less than a new sign-up bonus, but by upgrading, you may not be restricted from at some point earning a sign-up bonus.
Heads up that if your account is less than 13 months old, you may not be able to upgrade, because the Credit CARD Act of 2009 doesn't allow issuers to raise your annual fee in the first year. Alternatively, you could apply for the better card, although there can be limits on numbers of applications in a set amount of time, depending on the issuer, so be mindful of that.
When you downgrade
You can either call your issuer and ask for a downgrade, which can cut your annual fee and avoid a hard pull on your credit, or you can apply for the lesser card to get the sign-up bonus. However, double check with the issuer to make sure you qualify for the sign-up bonus, since you already have the higher-level 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 downgrade, 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.
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, 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
From credit-builder cards to cash back products, there are a myriad of credit card options with no annual fee.
Here are some questions to keep in mind as you choose between these cards:
- Do you want rewards for everyday spending? Some cards will give higher rewards for everyday categories such as groceries and gas.
- Is there a sister card? If so, there might be one with a waived annual fee the first year, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards, while the Capital One VentureOne Rewards has no annual fee. If you plan to spend a fair amount each year, the card with the annual fee may actually be the better choice.
- What about partnering cards? With the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, you can pair up select products, transfer points to cards that have boosted rewards, and use the points toward travel. For example, you can do this with the Freedom cards (no annual fee) and the Sapphire cards. More on that later.
- Do you want to set it and forget it? These cards are great for using the card without thinking about it – they can be up to 2% cash back, such as the Citi Double Cash Card (1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay), with no annual fee.
- Do you want to chase rich rewards? The Chase Freedom and the Discover it Cash Back, both with no annual fee, offer quarterly rotating categories of 5% back. Be mindful of the requirements though, because with these cards, you have to activate to sign up for the new bonuses each quarter. Also take note that both cards' 5% cash back only apply up to $1,500 in purchases in the quarter's categories.
- What about a sign-up bonus? Many no annual fee cards come with sign-up bonuses, even up to $200, as with the Wells Fargo Cash Wise. 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.
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.
But it you play it right, you can use the cash back, no annual fee card for, say, all spending, and use the travel card to get a sizeable sign-up bonus with your favorite hotel or airline brand, as well as outstanding ongoing rewards for that brand.
For example, the Wells Fargo Cash Wise will earn you 1.5% back 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 50,000 points after a $4,000 spend within 3 months, and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
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.
Then there are the Freedom cards. While you can't earn an Ultimate Rewards bonus with the fee-free Freedom cards, you can match them up with Sapphire cards and transfer the Freedom rewards, use them toward travel, and get the boost that way.
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, restaurants||25%||$95, waived first year|
|Sapphire Reserve||50,000-point sign-up/$4,000 spend in 3 mths; 3X points on worldwide travel, restaurants; $300 annual travel credit||50%||$450|
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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