No Annual Fee Credit Cards

Written by: Garrett Yarbrough | Reviewed by: Poonkulali Thangavelu

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May 6, 2021

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Simply put, a no annual fee credit card is a product that doesn’t charge an annual fee.

No annual fee cards can have two advantages for the shopper – they’re the most affordable choice up front and these cards often outdo the more expensive options. On top of their accessibility, no annual fee cards offer a wide variety of competitive benefits, including top-notch rewards, cash back bonuses and more.

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.

Simply put, a no annual fee credit card is a product that doesn’t charge an annual fee.

No annual fee cards can have two advantages for the shopper – they’re the most affordable choice up front and these cards often outdo the more expensive options. On top of their accessibility, no annual fee cards offer a wide variety of competitive benefits, including top-notch rewards, cash back bonuses and more.

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.

Best Credit Cards with No Annual Fee

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® 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 rewards on purchases
1.8%
1.8% cash rewards on digital wallet purchases including Google Pay™ or Apple Pay® during the first 12 months from account opening

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$150 cash rewards

Earn a $150 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 3 months

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
14.49% - 24.99% variable
Wells Fargo Platinum 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

This card doesn't offer cash back, miles, or points

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
No current offer
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
16.49% - 24.49% variable
Jasper Cash Back Mastercard®

No Credit History

Apply Now

Rewards Rate

Up to 6%
Up to 6% cash back by referring friends! Limited time only: Start with 1%, get to 3% cash back by successfully referring just two friends! Promotional cash back rate lasts for a full year.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$100

$100 signup bonus! Apply by May 31, 2021 using promo code RVPROMO to receive a $100 statement credit upon first eligible purchase, if approved. Terms apply.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
15.49% - 24.99% variable
Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Visa®

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

3%
Unlimited cash back on payments - 3% on Home, Auto and Health categories
1%
1% on everything else

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
No current offer
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
8.99% - 29.99% variable
SoFi 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

2%
Earn 2% unlimited cash back on eligible purchases when redeemed towards investing, saving, or paying down an eligible loan with SoFi.*

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
$100

Earn up to $100 when you open and fund a SoFi Money and a SoFi Invest account after getting approved for the SoFi Credit Card (See Terms).

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99% - 24.99% variable
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ 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

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)
Petal® 2

No Credit History

Apply Now

Rewards Rate

1.5%
Up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments.
1%
1% cash back on eligible purchases right away.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
No current offer
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
12.99% - 26.99% variable
Discover it® Miles

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

1.5X
Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
Discover Match®

Unlimited Bonus: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There's no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% variable
Upgrade Visa® Card with Cash Rewards

Fair to Good

Credit Recommended (580-740)

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 1.5% unlimited cash back on card purchases every time you make a payment

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
No current offer
Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
8.99% - 29.99% APR
Bank of America® Travel 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

1.5X
Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire.

At A Glance

Intro Bonus
25,000 points

25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

Annual Fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

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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 the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the content, nor is it responsible for its accuracy.


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 with their card than other consumers – TD Bank’s 2020 Retail Experience Index found that millennials are making an average of 1.5 more major purchases annually than other generations.

“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:

Methodology

With the myriad 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 13 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


Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards

best no annual fee credit cards

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

If you are willing to pay a $95 annual fee (waived for the first year) for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, it might be a better choice for the larger family or someone with a sizable commute. Also offering great rewards on regular purchases, the Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 annually, then 1%) and 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card

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

This card offers a 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers made in the first 60 days of card membership for 15 billing cycles, then there’s a low regular interest rate of 13.99%-23.99% variable.

Pros

The required spend on the sign-up bonus is quite low: Get a $200 online cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of opening your account. Also, the tiered rewards are quite good: Earn 3% cash back on one of 6 categories of your choosing, plus 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 a quarter on combined 3% and 2% categories, then it’s 1%).

Cons

If you want to make purchases and earn rewards without having to worry about which card to pull out, you may want to consider another card. There are flat-rate cash back cards with 1.5%, even 2% cash back on the market.

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 credit card APR for cash back cards, but also comes with a solid 0% introductory APR offer – 0% for 14 months on both balance transfers and 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 $200 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 you activate comes to $75 back each quarter, $300 at the end of the year, then matched by Discover for a total of $600). Then earn an 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.

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. 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.

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 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.

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.

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

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

This no annual fee card offers some nice cash back opportunities, notably 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, as well as 2% cash back at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®).

Pros

This card has more to offer: There’s a sign-up bonus of $200 after you spend only $500 in the first 3 months of opening your account. That’s more than competitive in the realm of cash back cards’ welcome offers. Plus, it features a 0% intro APR offer on purchases for 15 months (then it’s 15.49%-25.49% variable).

Cons

The ongoing APR after the welcome period is on the high side. Additionally, although it provides solid earning rates, redemption options are limited with a cash back card.

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’ll earn $200 after spending $500 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening an account.

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.

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 $500 spend within the first 3 months of opening your account. And, you can transfer your miles to more than 15+ 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.

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 and ongoing rates on balance transfers – just be sure you transfer your balance within the first 4 months.

Pros

With Citi’s unique Citi Entertainment® program, you’ll have access to purchase tickets to thousands of events, including presale tickets for concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and more – Citi is even offering virtual entertainment options in 2021.

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.

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.

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.

Compare the Best Credit Cards with No Annual Fee

Credit CardBest ForAnnual FeeOur Rating
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American ExpressU.S. Gas and U.S. Supermarkets$03.7 / 5
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit cardLow APR$04.0 / 5
Discover it® Cash BackLow interest$04.3 / 5
Chase Freedom Unlimited®Unlimited earning potential$04.7 / 5
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit CardNew cardholders$03.4 / 5
Citi® Double Cash CardCash back$03.8 / 5
Capital One SavorOne Rewards Credit CardDining and entertainment$03.7 / 5
Chase Freedom Flex℠Rewards Variety$03.9 / 5
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit CardEarning travel miles$03.0 / 5
Citi® Diamond Preferred® CardLengthy introductory purchase window$03.9 / 5
Citi Rewards+® CardBonus rewards$03.0 / 5
Discover it® chromeFirst year welcome offer$04.1 / 5

What does ‘no annual fee’ credit card mean?

An annual fee on a credit card is a charge made each year. These fees are often tacked onto cards that give access to special benefits, like credit-builder cards, rewards cards or luxury options, for example. With the best no annual fee cards, you can take advantage of many of those specialty benefits without the added yearly cost.

Luckily, there are a plethora of great options – in our November 2020 credit card fees survey we found that 74 of the 100 cards we evaluated never charge annual fees. While paying a little extra can get you better rewards rates, sign-up bonuses and other perks, no annual fee options still provide these valuable add-ons. But it may take a little more searching.

Some annual fee cards will waive the annual fee for your first year as a cardholder. But once these charges start occurring on an annual basis to keep your account active, the fees can be daunting. Some cardholders find ways to make up for it through clever spending and earning of rewards, but some annual fee cards can cost $550 or more each year. With the right fit, no annual fee cardholders can take advantage of surprising rewards without that yearly cost.

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 Credit Card and the Secured Mastercard® from Capital One.

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 boosted 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?

Realistically, there’s no universal answer. In any case, financial circumstances and lifestyle play a huge part in deciding on the best credit card for you. No annual fee credit cards can be a must when looking for affordability or towards the beginning of your credit building journey, but annual fee options are often the better choice for savvy rewards strategists and big spenders. It may take a deeper dive to find the answer for your situation.

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*up to $250 intro bonus/$2,000 spend in first 6 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 and 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$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.**up to $350 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/$500 spend in 3 months; 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase12-month 0% intro APR on purchases, then 15.49%-25.49% (Variable)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card$95100,000-mile sign-up/$20,000 spend in the first 12 months (or, still earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months); 2X miles per dollar on every purchaseNo 0% intro APR offer; ongoing
17.24%-24.49% variable APR
*Blue Cash Everyday welcome bonus: earn a $100 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of card membership and earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the card in the first 6 months, up to $150 back.
**Blue Cash Preferred welcome bonus: earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of card membership and earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the card within the first 6 months, up to $200 back.

As you can see, the Blue Cash products have the same ongoing interest but vary on the 0% intro APR offer. On the other hand, the VentureOne has a 0% APR offer, while the Venture does not. Additionally, the VentureOne’s variable interest rate is slightly lower. 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.

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 U.S. supermarkets:

Blue Cash Everyday vs. Blue Cash Preferred…

CardCash backTotal minus ongoing annual fee
Blue Cash Everyday from American Express3% x $3,200=$96$96
Blue Cash Preferred from American Express6% x $3,200=$192$97

As you can see, the two options offer similar value at the $3,200 annual spend mark. But thanks to the Blue Cash Preferred’s strong 6% rewards rate, anyone spending more than $3,200 annually at the grocery store could benefit from paying up the ongoing annual fee.

Read more: our full comparison of the Blue Cash Preferred and the Blue Cash Everyday

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

Glancing at the figures above, it seems that $12,750 in annual spend is roughly the breakeven point for the VentureOne versus the Venture. So, if you know your annual budget is less than $12,750 a year, the no-annual-fee VentureOne Rewards is the better pick.

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 Visa® card will earn you 1.5% cash rewards on purchases, while the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card gives you 2X points on travel and dining. Simply use the Sapphire Preferred 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