No Annual Fee Credit Cards

When shopping online or at the store, it’s natural to assume that the most affordable options might not bring you the best product. Luckily, that’s not the case when it comes to no annual fee credit cards. On top of their accessibility, no annual fee cards offer a wide variety of benefits, including top-notch rewards, cash back bonuses and more.

The most obvious benefit of no annual fee credit cards is right in the name; you won’t be charged a yearly membership cost to continue on as a cardholder. This added flexibility not only frees up space in your budget, but you won’t be caught off guard with an annual fee that you might have forgotten about. Plus, these fees can be daunting. Some cardholders find ways to make up for it through clever spending and rewards-earning, but annual fee cards can cost as much as $550 per year – a pretty pricey ticket. With the right fit, no annual fee cardholders can take advantage of similar rewards without the yearly cost.

While many luxury credit cards charge an annual fee, there is a vast array of top tier credit cards that offer ample rewards without one. In fact, these include some of the best credit cards around.

Whether you’re looking to build credit, find an everyday card, capitalize on rewards, transfer a balance or make another financially-savvy move, there’s likely a card for you. Find low APR, rewards and more with the best no annual fee cards from our partners.

When shopping online or at the store, it’s natural to assume that the most affordable options might not bring you the best product. Luckily, that’s not the case when it comes to no annual fee credit cards. On top of their accessibility, no annual fee cards offer a wide variety of benefits, including top-notch rewards, cash back bonuses and more.

The most obvious benefit of no annual fee credit cards is right in the name; you won’t be charged a yearly membership cost to continue on as a cardholder. This added flexibility not only frees up space in your budget, but you won’t be caught off guard with an annual fee that you might have forgotten about. Plus, these fees can be daunting. Some cardholders find ways to make up for it through clever spending and rewards-earning, but annual fee cards can cost as much as $550 per year – a pretty pricey ticket. With the right fit, no annual fee cardholders can take advantage of similar rewards without the yearly cost.

While many luxury credit cards charge an annual fee, there is a vast array of top tier credit cards that offer ample rewards without one. In fact, these include some of the best credit cards around.

Whether you’re looking to build credit, find an everyday card, capitalize on rewards, transfer a balance or make another financially-savvy move, there’s likely a card for you. Find low APR, rewards and more with the best no annual fee cards from our partners.

Editor: Laura Mohammad | Writer: Garrett Yarbrough

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October 1, 2020

Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards:

Discover it® chrome

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%
Earn cash back on your next road trip with 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.
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
Chase Freedom Unlimited®

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 grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
5%
Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase.
3%
Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores
1.5
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 23.74% variable
Citi® Double Cash Card

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)
Discover it® Cash Back

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
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

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
$200

One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% variable
Chase Freedom Flex℠

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 grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
5%
Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
5%
Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase.
3%
Earn 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores.
1%
Earn 1% on all other purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$200

Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 23.74% variable
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

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

2X
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services
2X
Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
1X
Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
10,000 miles

Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Citi Rewards+℠ Card

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

2X
Earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter.
1X
Earn 1X ThankYou® Points on All Other Purchases.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
15,000 points

Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

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

1.25X
Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
20,000 miles

Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 25.49% 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 Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card, Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card 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

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee credit card for lengthy introductory purchase window

Not only can you get 0% intro APR for 18 months on purchases with this card (it’s 14.74%-24.74% variable after that), you can get the same 18-month offer on balance transfers (then 14.74%-24.74% variable), a rarity in these interesting times.

Pros

With Citi’s unique Citi Entertainment® program, purchase tickets to thousands of events, including concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more – Citi is even offering virtual entertainment options in 2020.

Cons

It’s a bummer, we know, but this card has no sign-up bonus and no ongoing rewards, making it a tough sell as a card for the long haul. However, if you’re thinking about credit-building, remember that you get free access to your FICO® Score with this card.

Discover it® chrome

Why it’s the best no annual fee credit card for first-year welcome offer

The Discover cards are practically unparalleled in first-year welcome offers, and the Discover it chrome is no exception. Simply put, your well-earned cash back will be matched at the end of your first year.

Pros

Earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases quarterly (then 1%), then as we said, that cash is matched at the end of your first year. So, earn $80 your first year and that becomes $160 at the end of your first year. Also, there’s no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee.

Cons

Like other Discover cards, the Discover it chrome isn’t widely accepted overseas, so you may want to take another card with you if you want to travel abroad.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Why it’s the best no annual fee credit card for unlimited earning potential

There’s a lot to unpack in the way of rewards with the Freedom Unlimited, but when it comes to unlimited earning, there are some great options. Earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase and 3% cash back on dining at restaurants and drugstores.

Pros

Your first year of holding the Freedom Unlimited is particularly rewarding. Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Walmart® and Target® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Also, get an industry-busting $200 after only a $500 spend within the first 3 months.

Cons

While you can get 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months (then it’s 14.99%-23.74% variable), no such luck with balance transfers.

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.

Discover it® Cash Back

Why it’s the best no annual fee credit 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 the bonus earnings.

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 $200 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.

Chase Freedom Flex℠

Why it’s the best no annual fee credit card for variety of rewards categories

Those with varied spending habits will enjoy rewards in a bunch of different categories: 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back at restaurants and eligible delivery services, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and 1% on everything else. Plus, you’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in rotating bonus categories each quarter you activate.

Pros

In your first year, you’re eligible for two generous bonuses. First, you’ll earn $200 after spending $500 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening an account. Additionally, for your entire first year, you’ll earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 – that’s a maximum of $600 in cash back on groceries alone.

Cons

After your first year, the earnings potential takes a dip. To decide whether the long-term value fits your lifestyle, you should assess how much you typically spend on restaurants, travel and drug store purchases, keeping in mind that the 5% cash back on travel only applies to travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. The good news, however, is that there’s no annual fee to worry about offsetting.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee credit card for earning airline miles

Earn 2X miles on eligible American Airlines purchases – and that’s unlimited. Cardholders also enjoy a 25% discount on inflight food and beverages on American Airline flights as well as several more travel perks.

Pros

The sign-up offer is pretty good: Earn 10,000 miles and a $50 credit after a $500 spend within the first 3 months. Also, earn 2X miles at grocery stores, including grocery store deliveries.

Cons

Unfortunately, you can’t get 0% intro APR with this card, either on purchases or balance transfers. Also, other than the boosted rewards, the rewards are lackluster.

Citi Rewards+℠ Card

Why it’s the best no annual fee credit 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. And thanks to what could be its most impactful feature, 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, something to keep in mind given our current travel restrictions.

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

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

Many travel cards carry an annual fee that starts at $95, but the VentureOne is no such card. Earn travel miles on this card without worrying about making sure you earn enough to surpass an annual fee.

Pros

The sign-up bonus is equal to $200 in travel – earn 20,000 miles after only a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months of opening your account. And, you can transfer your miles to more than 10 travel partners.

Cons

The ongoing rewards for this card are super low – earn 1.25X miles on all purchases. However, there are no blackout dates, and you can fly on any airline and stay at any hotel.

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, but you do earn $200 which is better than most other 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.

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).

Compare the Best Credit Cards with No Annual Fee

Credit CardBest ForAnnual FeeOur Rating
Citi® Diamond Preferred® CardLengthy introductory purchase window$03.9 / 5
Discover it® chromeFirst year welcome offer$04.1 / 5
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Unlimited earning potential$04.7 / 5
Citi® Double Cash CardCash back$03.8 / 5
Discover it® Cash BackLow interest$04.3 / 5
Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit CardNew cardholders$03.4 / 5
Chase Freedom Flex℠Rewards Variety$03.9 / 5
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ CardEarning airline miles$03.5 / 5
Citi Rewards+℠ CardBonus rewards$03.0 / 5
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit CardEarning travel miles$03.0 / 5
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressU.S. Gas and U.S. Supermarket$03.7 / 5
American Express Cash Magnet® Card0% intro purchase APR For 15 months, then 13.99% – 23.99% variable APR. $04 / 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. Our survey determined that 26 of the 100 cards we looked at 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? Many credit cards 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).

People looking to rebuild credit

Similar to new card users, those looking to rebuild their credit can benefit from a no annual fee card. Some options are available to people with bad credit scores and have features to help you re-establish your credit. Plus, avoiding the cost of an annual fee can make budgeting easier, giving you more leeway to improve your credit score through timely monthly payments.

Experienced cardholders looking to diversify

Cardholders carrying a top-tier card may be able to add some value to their wallet with a no annual fee card. Premier credit card rewards are often tied to specialized categories such as travel, so a general-purpose rewards card with no annual fee that you can use for everyday purchases could come in handy.

Occasional credit card users

If you plan to use your card only occasionally, a card with no annual fee is the most economical choice. With a card that charges an annual fee, you would need to spend a certain amount every year to make it worth your while. A no annual fee card is not only cheaper but simpler.

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 a credit 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?

Putting it simply, yes, an annual fee can be worthwhile. 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 will justify paying a fee. Doing this can require a little extra work, but there are a few factors you can key in on when considering annual fee cards:

Sign-up bonus

Cards with annual fees often come with lucrative sign-up bonuses that can eclipse the fee in the first year. Consider the affordability and value given with any card’s sign-up bonus to get a gauge on whether it’s a worthwhile option, but you can’t expect to get a huge bonus every year to offset the annual fee – be sure other features make the card 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. If your spending habits align well with a certain card’s bonus categories, it could be the winning ticket. A card giving heightened rewards on your largest expense categories may pay for itself and then some.

0% APR

Does the annual fee card have an enticing 0% APR offer? If so, it’d be a rarity: 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. Surprisingly enough, annual fee cards also tend to offer shorter 0% APR terms than their no annual fee counterparts, a crucial feature if you’re looking to move debt or make a large purchase.

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 can often be lower than their premium siblings, like when comparing the Venture and VentureOne cards, but the ultimate goal is to avoid interest charges altogether, so find an affordable option with personally valuable rewards.

Perks & benefits

On top of sign-up bonuses and inflated rewards rates, cards with an annual fee often feature unique, high-end 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.

Which is better: annual fee or no annual fee?

Let’s take a closer look at comparable annual fee cards and their no annual fee counterparts. We’ll highlight options from American Express and Capital One as examples:

CardAnnual feeRewardsBenefits
Blue Cash Everyday from American Express$0$200 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 Apply15-month 0% intro APR on purchases, then 13.99%-23.99% (Variable)
Blue Cash Preferred from American Express$95, waived first year*$300 intro bonus/$3,000 spend in first 6 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 Apply12-month 0% intro APR on purchases, then 13.99%-23.99% (Variable)
Capital One VentureOne Rewards$020,000-mile sign-up/$1,000 spend in 3 mths; 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase12-month 0% intro APR on purchases, then 15.49%-25.49% (Variable)
Capital One Venture Rewards$95100,000-mile sign-up/$20,000 spend in 12 mths or 50,000-mile sign-up/$3,000 spend in 3 mths; 2X miles per dollar on every purchaseNo 0% intro APR offer; ongoing
17.24%-24.49% variable APR

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. *Limited time offer ends 12/10/20.

While cards with annual fees often have superior benefits, you can save money by avoiding an annual fee if you don’t plan to spend too high of an amount. For example, the American Express options below come within a dollar of each other on a $3,200 annual spend at supermarkets:

Blue Cash Everyday vs. Blue Cash Preferred…

CardCash backTotal minus annual fee
Blue Cash Everyday from American Express3% x $3,200=$96$96
Blue Cash Preferred from American Express6% 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 rewards rate than the Capital One VentureOne Rewards.

VentureOne Rewards vs. Venture Rewards…

CardCash backTotal minus annual fee
VentureOne Rewards1.25 miles x $12,750=$159$159
Venture Rewards2 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.

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.

The key is finding rewards that complement your current card’s structure. 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 80,000 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 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.

How can I avoid paying the annual fee on my credit card?

It may come as a surprise, but the terms of your credit card agreement might not be set in stone. It’s no guarantee, but in many cases we’ve found that you can call your card provider and ask to have your annual fee waived. Plus, card issuers have been lowering annual fees this year, giving you some extra leverage to have your fee forgiven.

Other options to avoid your card’s annual fee include downgrading cards, closing a card or finding a new option entirely.

Can I cancel my credit card and not pay the annual fee?

If you’re not using an annual fee card often, it’s probably in your best interest to close the card account. You should try to negotiate with your issuer or explore downgrading first, though, because otherwise you’ll be stuck paying the fee.

It may seem like a great idea, but taking advantage of cards with a waived first-year fee is too good to be true. Sure, you could try to sign up for multiple cards to take advantage of the initial bonuses and close the accounts after a year, but churning through cards like this will only create problems. Also, trying to hold out on paying doesn’t do you any good, either – rewards and benefits typically are inaccessible for those who haven’t paid their annual fee.

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. For example, there’s the Discover it® Secured, which offers 2% at gas stations and restaurants for up to $1,000 a quarter in combined purchases, then it’s 1%.

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. Some cards waive annual fees in the first year, however, giving you a trial period to determine whether it’s the right option for you. Of 100 cards we surveyed in November 2019, 9 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.