Best “No Annual Fee” Credit Cards

Annual Fee Credit Cards vs. No Annual Fee Credit Cards

When it comes to straight cash back cards without any bonus categories, there’s no need to pay an annual fee. To be clear, they may not produce the absolute best yield, but cards like the Citi Double Cash Card (personal) and American Express Blue Business Cash Card (for businesses), both earn a flat 2% cash back – which beats the 1% or less many of you currently earn on your cards!

Beyond that, though, we want to be very clear. Despite a myth from years ago that you should never pay an annual fee on a credit card, the simple truth is that *most* (but not all…) cards with annual fees these days have benefits or points / cash back rates that more than cover that fee.

Let’s start with a direct comparison of cards that have annual fee and no annual-fee versions:

Venture from Capital One ($95 fee) vs. VentureOne from Capital One (no annual fee):

The Venture has an annual fee of $95 but it’s waived the first year. It comes with a 50,000 point early spend bonus for new accounts – worth about $600. It earns 2 Capital One miles per dollar spent. 

The VentureOne comes with just a 20,000 point early spend bonus worth $240. It earns 1.25 Capital One miles per dollar spent. If you spent $11,000 on each card, the Venture would earn 22,000 points and the VentureOne just 13,750 points for that spend – an extra $99 worth of points (we value Capital One points at 1.2 cents each). 

Verdict: By paying the $95 annual fee (and you don’t even pay it the first year), you earn an extra $360 in rewards the first year from just the bonus + $99 more in rewards earned on $11,000 in spend. 

That new card / early spend bonus alone covers several years of annual fees, but you’re also earning more once you hit the break even point of about $10,500 in annual spend.

Now let’s look at an example of benefits you get from a card with a high annual fee:

The Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, has a $450 annual fee that feels like a whopper.

But the first $300 you spend on any travel expenses at all (including cabs, Ubers, and parking meters alongside the obvious airfare and hotels) get auto-credited back. So that leaves a net fee of $150 a year. In exchange you get unlimited access to Priority Pass, an airport lounge network, for you and two guests. The membership direct from Priority Pass (with no guests!) would sell for $429 per year.

Now, compare that to Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which has just a $95 annual fee but no Priority Pass. That means for the difference in fees, you are paying $55 for airport lounge access all year for you and two guests. But wait, there’s more!

You also earn 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining vs 2 with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It doesn’t take much spending to equal more than $55 in extra value as well. Finally, having a Chase Sapphire card with an annual fee allows you to transfer your points to airline and hotel partners, making them worth even more.

Now, you could have a no annual fee Chase card, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card. It will earn 1.5x points on everything, which is simple, but you won’t be able to transfer those points without one of those two cards with a fee above. That means you’re only getting 1.5% cash back – when you could be earning transferable points!

Cards with Annual Perks

Lastly, there are cards that provide things like annual free nights in a hotel and/or hotel status for paying a nominal annual fee.

For example, the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express gives you Hilton Gold status in exchange for your $95 annual fee. And both the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card come with annual free nights – often worth 2-3x the annual fee!

Summary

You always need to look at the benefits and earning rates of cards with and without annual fees to determine which is credit card is best for you. We even created a free worksheet you can use to determine if the benefits outweigh the fee!

But if after all that, you still want a simple card with no annual fee, we’ve listed out favorite ones on this page.

We base our ratings below on the value of the points of each card multiplied by the amount of the bonus. Dive into each card for more details and to learn how to apply.

 

Don’t Miss Out On Limited time Offers

Credit card companies regularly offer limited time increased signup bonus offers on their credit cards. They also sometimes change card benefits or otherwise change up their card lineups.
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