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Bankrate helps you find the right no-annual-fee credit card
Choosing the best credit card with no annual fee means choosing the one that suits your lifestyle and spending habits. Depending on how often you use the card, the issuer’s yearly charge may or may not be worth the benefits.
The more you know…
Throughout 2020, many cardholders requested a fee waiver for items such as annual fees or late payment fees. Of those who asked for a waiver, 82% got some form of relief, according to Bankrate’s study
Bankrate makes your search easier by taking a close look at the top cards available from our partners to see which no-annual-fee credit cards truly stand out. Our credit card experts also help you understand the ins and outs of getting the most out of your card every day.
In this guide:
Compare the best credit cards with no annual fee
A closer look at the best no-annual-fee credit cards
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best cash back card with no annual fee
- This card is a good fit for: Cash back first-timers seeking a simple no-annual-fee card.
- This card is not a great choice for: Someone whose spending is concentrated in few particular categories.
- What makes this card unique? The Quicksilver offers several travel and shopping protections, including emergency card replacement, auto rental insurance coverage and fraud coverage. For a no-annual-fee card, this is a noteworthy set of perks.
- Is the Capital One Quicksilver card worth it? Sure, you can find higher rewards rates and sign-up bonuses, but the Quicksilver has a lot to offer considering the lack of an annual fee. Unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases can provide steady value to anyone.
Read our full Capital One Quicksilver card review.
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
Best for automatic bonus category
- This card is a good fit for: Someone who wants to earn a high rate of cash back without being limited to one or two category options.
- This card is not a great choice for: Someone looking to earn rewards in multiple categories at the same time. While there are ten eligible bonus categories, you’ll only earn 5 percent cash back in one category per billing cycle — the one you spend the most within (on up to $500 per billing cycle, then 1 percent). If you want to consistently earn boosted cash back on both groceries and gas, for example, you may be better off with a more traditional tiered card.
- What makes this card unique? The bonus category automatically shifts to match your spending, a feature that’s both unique and valuable.
- Is the Citi Custom Cash Card worth it?
With ten eligible bonus categories and a cash back rate of 5 percent (on up to $500 per billing cycle, then 1 percent), it’s pretty remarkable that this card comes with no annual fee.
Read our full Citi Custom Cash Card review.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Best no-annual-fee card for families
- This card is a good fit for: Those seeking a low-maintenance cash back card to use on the everyday essentials.
- This card is not a great choice for: Target, Walmart or Sam’s Club loyalists. Superstores and wholesale clubs are not for the U.S. supermarkets cash back category.
- What makes this card unique? Lots of cards offer cash back at U.S. supermarkets and U.S.gas stations, but the addition of 2 percent cash back at select U.S. department stores sets this card apart. It’s also another useful category for families.
- Is the Blue Cash Everyday worth it? If you’re like most people, gas and groceries are built into your budget. With simple, everyday bonus categories, this card is worth having — especially since it has no annual fee. Plus, the welcome offer can really boost your first-year earnings: Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the Card in the first 6 months of Card membership, up to $150 back. Plus, earn $100 back after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months of card membership. You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.
Read our full Blue Cash Everyday Card review.
Citi® Double Cash Card
Best no-annual-fee card for flat-rate cash back
- This card is a good fit for: Those looking for a flat-rate, no annual fee cash back card.
- This card is not a great choice for: Someone seeking a sign-up bonus.
- What makes this card unique? The rewards system is both unique and valuable: Earn 1 percent cash back as you buy, 1 percent as you pay. It’s also an incentive to use your card responsibly.
- Is the Citi Double Cash worth it? With no bonus categories or annual fee to worry about and a high rate of cash back, this card can be a valuable, stress-free addition to most wallets. If you spent and paid off $400 per month on your Citi Double Cash, you’d earn $96 in cash back annually ($400 x 12 = $4,800 ; $4,800 x .02 = $96).
Read our full Citi Double Cash Card review.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Best rewards card with no annual fee
- This card is a good fit for: Someone who can’t decide between a cash back and a travel credit card.
- This card is not a great choice for: International travelers. Though you’ll earn a good rewards rate booking travel, this isn’t the best card to take along if you’re leaving the U.S. because of the 3 percent foreign transaction fee.
- What makes this card unique? Not only can you redeem your rewards for both cash back and travel (purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards), but you can do so for equal value — 1 cent apiece. For that reason, this card is a great way to dip your toe into travel rewards without an exclusive commitment.
- Is the Chase Freedom Unlimited worth it? The potential value of the Chase Freedom Unlimited is great, especially for a no-annual-fee card. Every purchase earns at least 1.5 percent cash back, which is a decent rate on its own. But your earning potential climbs even higher with the additional bonus categories. Flexible redemption options solidify the Chase Freedom Unlimited as an ultra-versatile rewards card.
Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited review.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Best no-annual-fee card for travel expenses
- This card is a good fit for: Occasional or beginner travelers.
- This card is not a great choice for: Frequent travelers who want to maximize their rewards earnings.
- What makes this card unique?: You can use your Capital One miles to book hotels, flights and rental cars through Capital One’s website, or you can use your card to book travel through another service or website and redeem your miles as a statement credit to cover the cost. In the travel rewards world, the freedom to book your rewards travel however you like is huge.
- Is the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card worth it?: The rewards rate isn’t the most competitive, but it is simple and unlimited. Plus, the lack of an annual fee means you won’t have to stress about recouping that cost. The ease of earning and redeeming miles is also a huge plus, especially for those just getting started with travel rewards.
Read our full Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review.
Discover it® Cash Back
Best no-annual-fee card for rotating cash back categories
- This card is a good fit for: Someone looking to cash in on a variety of seasonal expenses.
- This card is not a great choice for: Someone who prefers a simple rewards structure.
- What makes this card unique?: This card offers 5 percent cash back (activation required) on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly rotating bonus categories, then 1 percent.
- Is the Discover it® Cash Back worth it?: Discover’s cash back categories are usually pretty valuable, with previous categories including restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and Amazon.com. To put it in perspective, activating and maxing out each quarter’s bonus category would earn you $300 in cash back over the course of a year ($1,500 x .05 = $75 ; $75 x 4 = $300). And with Discover’s first-year cash back match, your earnings would essentially double to $600 for your first year, which is pretty phenomenal.
Read our full Discover it Cash Back review.
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Best no-annual-fee card for cash back in multiple categories
- This card is a good fit for: Someone looking to earn rewards in several purchase categories.
- This card is not a great choice for: Grocery shoppers looking for a go-to card. The Freedom Flex has featured grocery stores and wholesale clubs as a bonus category in the past, but those with a significant grocery bill each week will benefit more from a card that always rewards those purchases.
- What makes this card unique? The Freedom Flex features bonus categories that rotate each quarter. If you have commitment issues when it comes to rewards categories, this card could be a great fit.
- Is the Chase Freedom Flex worth it? The Freedom Flex gives you plenty of opportunities to earn cash back, which is what makes its potential value so high. If the bonus categories align with your budget, the card is worth your time. And thanks to the sign-up bonus, new cardholders don’t have to wait long to rack up rewards. Spending just $500 on purchases within the first 3 months will earn you a $200 cash bonus.
Read our full Chase Freedom Flex℠ review.
Capital One Platinum Credit Card
Best no-annual-fee card for free credit monitoring
- This card is a good fit for: Someone with fair to good credit looking to improve their score.
- This card is not a great fit for: Rewards seekers. You won’t earn cash back or points for your purchases.
- What makes this card unique? This card has no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, and your account will be automatically reviewed for a higher credit limit after six months. For a card available to consumers with less than ideal credit, this set of features is pretty remarkable.
- Is the Capital One Platinum card worth it? The Capital One Platinum allows you to build credit with responsible use, even when your score isn’t at its best, and free credit monitoring makes it easier to track your journey. If your goal is to achieve a higher credit score while minimizing fees, this card is worth it. Just remember that you shouldn’t expect much else beyond the ability to build credit and a few extra perks.
Read our full Capital One Platinum Credit Card review.
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
Best no-annual-fee card for dining and entertainment
- This card is a good fit for: Foodies and entertainment lovers.
- This card is not a great choice for: Someone looking to redeem rewards for travel. Your redemption options are limited to statement credits, checks and gift cards.
- What makes this card unique? If you’re looking for a card that rewards fun experiences, you’ll have a hard time finding a better option than the SavorOne. “Entertainment” may sound like a vague bonus category, but plenty of common experiences like concerts, movies, sporting events, theme parks and tourist attractions are included in Capital One’s entertainment bonus category.
- Is the Capital One SavorOne worth it? With no annual fee, the SavorOne makes it easy to come out ahead. And since it rewards both everyday and entertainment purchases, it’s a well-rounded card for nearly anyone. Plus, if you spend $500 within three months of opening your account, you’ll secure a $200 cash bonus.
Read our full Capital One SavorOne review.
What does ‘no-annual-fee’ credit card mean?
Some credit cards charge an annual fee, meaning that you have to pay a fee every year to keep your account open. A no-annual-fee credit card doesn’t charge this type of fee.
You can think of an annual fee as payment for having access to special benefits provided by a card, which may include:
For example, consider The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. The $595 annual fee (see rates and fees) might be eye-popping, but the tradeoff includes a higher rewards rate (5X points on flights and prepaid hotels through amextravel.com) than what most no-annual-fee cards offer.
At the same time, many credit cards offer rewards programs, travel perks and other items of real value without charging a yearly fee. Many of the most popular credit cards have no annual fee or offer to waive the fee for the first year. With any credit card, whether the benefits justify the expense of an annual fee depends on the individual cardholder.
Who should get a no-annual-fee card?
Just about anyone could benefit from the right no-annual-fee credit card. If you’re trying to decide whether to get one, consider your experience as a cardholder, typical spending habits and financial priorities to determine whether you fit any of the following consumer types:
New credit card users
If you’re new to the world of credit cards, a card with no annual fee might be the right choice until you become more experienced. You won’t have to worry about developing a strategy to maximize the card’s benefits to compensate for an annual fee. Being diligent about monthly payments should make it easier to upgrade to a higher-level card later on.
Credit builders and rebuilders
Not having an annual credit card fee added to the mix makes it easier to keep your budget simplified, which can be a welcome relief for anyone building or rebuilding their credit. A number of cards designed for people with no credit history or bad credit don’t charge annual fees (although secured credit cards typically require a one-time security deposit).
Some no-annual-fee cards offer 0% introductory APR on purchases, balance transfers or both. These cards can provide a temporary interest-free window to pay for a large purchase or a balance transferred from a different credit account.
Experienced cardholders looking to diversify
Those who already own top-tier cards might find the addition of a carefully chosen no-annual-fee card worth their time. Credit card combinations, like pairing a premier travel card with an everyday cash back card, could round out your plastic portfolio.
Occasional credit card users
A card with no annual fee doesn’t require big spending to offset that yearly expense, making it a simple and economical way to build credit and earn rewards.
Travel credit cards usually come with annual fees. But if you’re a frequent traveler, a good travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
can easily make up for its annual fee in rewards value.
Are credit cards with annual fees worth it?
No annual fee might seem like a no-brainer — Who would want to pay a yearly fee? However, there are times where an annual fee is justified.
When it’s worth the fee
With an annual fee card, you can think of the price as paying a yearly subscription for premium benefits. If it fits your budget, an annual fee card often features better rewards rates, comprehensive travel perks or more generous sign-up bonuses.
Plenty of annual fee credit cards can pay for themselves — just be sure it’s affordable for you. To see if an annual fee card is truly worth it, estimate how much your typical yearly spending would earn you in rewards and consider the value of the card’s perks and benefits. Then compare this value to the card’s annual price tag. Big spenders, frequent travelers and small business owners in particular should do the math on whether an annual fee is worth the value.
When it’s not worth the fee
Credit card beginners might have an easier time learning the basics with a no-annual-fee card. They’re also more likely to be in the early stages of their careers, with less room in their budgets to absorb the cost of an annual credit card fee.
For some cardholders, the true value of credit cards lies in their convenience instead of their potential for rewards. Not everyone has the same interest in cash back or travel miles, or the willingness to balance them against an annual credit card fee. If stockpiling rewards doesn’t interest you, a no-annual-fee card is likely the better choice.
How we chose our top no-annual-fee credit cards
All credit cards from our partners are rated with a 5-star scoring system. For cards in this category, we focused on the merits of each selection apart from charging no annual fee. Those specific criteria included:
Rewards rate and value
To help you get the best returns on your spending, from cash back to travel rewards.
To highlight cards that let you redeem your rewards in a useful, flexible way.
Extras and discounts
To identify cards that offer retail discounts, insurance coverage and other perks that improve their overall value.
To include cards that offer reasonable interest rates in case you carry a balance.
More information on credit cards with no annual fee
Here are some additional Bankrate resources on no-annual-fee credit cards:
Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.