Cash back cards with annual fees can give with one hand, and take away with the other.
Have you ever signed up for a cash back credit card, then realized the cash back you'll earn will barely cover the card's annual fee?
You think you're getting free money back for spending on the card. Then you realize it's all going towards paying the annual fee.
Annual fees are for life. The card might have waived the annual fee for the first year, but every year after that you're going to have to pay.
If you're not spending a lot on your card, that could mean you could lose money rather than gain money through the cash back program.
It's important to do that math to avoid the costly mistake of choosing the wrong credit card.
Some annual fees can be huge.According to Forbes, some travel credit cards charge as much as $550 for the annual fee (that eye-popping credit card offer comes from the American Express Platinum Credit Card).
And often the cardholders are paying an annual fee for services they don't even use, for example, if they go for a year without traveling a lot.
Make no annual fee your goal. Fortunately, by doing a little bit of research you can find a whole range of credit cards that charge no annual fee but still offer great benefits like cash back and rewards.
The good news is, we've done the research for you!
We believe you should be able to access credit cards with rewards, cash back, and travel points without having to pay an annual fee.
If you've signed up in the past for a card and then realized the rewards weren't covering the annual fee, it's time to redeem yourself by signing up for a No annual fee credit card.
We've identified some great options with different features. Pick one and never pay an annual fee for a credit card again.
Check the Fine Print
Make sure your "No annual fee credit card" isn't just offering no annual fee for an introductory period
There are two types of no annual fee credit cards. The first type is cards that will never charge you an annual fee for as long as you have your account.
The second type are cards that charge no annual fee in year one, then charge an annual fee in the following years. For example, Delta SkyMiles American Express charges no annual fee in year one and a $95 annual fee every year after.
Make sure you read the fine print. The first-year honeymoon period with no annual fee can go by fast. Then you're stuck with an annual fee every year.
Your biggest worry might be spending enough to earn the minimum amount of cash back just to cover the annual fee.
We prefer no annual fee for the long-term.The credit card offers we're looking at here all have the permanent benefit of no annual fees. Ever.
How we picked the best no annual fee credit cards
No annual fees forever.The first criteria for picking the best no annual fee credit cards was easy. The credit card offer had to have no annual fee, and not just for an intro period. Forever.
That resulted in a pool of well over a dozen available credit cards with no annual fee.
From there we looked at the other advantages of each credit card offer.
Consider the cash back, travel rewards & intro offers.We identified no annual fee credit cards with the best cash back for people who want to get a flat rate.
We also figured out which credit card offers gave high cash back if you spend in different bonus categories.
The no annual fee credit cards with the most fantastic introductory offer were considered.
No annual fee credit cards with good travel rewards benefits were also singled out.
What we ended up with are the four best no annual fee credit cards.
The four different credit card offers happen to come from four different credit card issuers.
Citi Double Cash
A favorite for earning cash back twice, this card gives you double the bang for your buck
Cash-back is king.A recent JD Power survey found cash back rewards were the #1 incentive impacting overall credit card customer satisfaction.
It's no wonder then that our favorite overall No annual fee credit card has a cash back program that rewards you twice.
Get cash back, then get it again.With the Citi Double Cash Card, you get a point for every dollar spent when using the card for a transaction at the checkout counter. Then you get the points doubled when you pay off your purchases.
Good for balance transfers.People also love that there are no balance transfer fees if you transfer a balance from another card in the first four months after opening the account. Then for the first 18 months, the intro APR on balance transfers is 0%.
But sooner or later you have to pay the high APR.The only problem is once the 18 months intro APR period is over the variable APR with the Citi Double Cash Card is 14.49% – 24.49% based on creditworthiness.
So, if they didn't pay off the balance that was transferred they will be paying a pretty high rate of interest on it (or any other unpaid balances).
Our research shows that someone can get approved for the Citi Double Cash Card with a credit score as low as 660, but to get a good offer for the APR your credit score should be 700 or higher.
No sign-up bonus is unusual even for a card with no annual fee
You're not welcomed. Other than the 18-month 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers, there is no welcome bonus offer with the Citi Double Cash Card.
That's rare even among credit cards that don't charge an annual fee.
Redeem your points after you've paid off the balance
Unlimited opportunity to earn a point per dollar, then it's doubled.The Citi Double Cash Card gives you 1 point for every dollar spent on unlimited purchases with the card. There are no caps or spending categories to worry about.
Then when you pay off the balance, you get rewarded all over again with the same amount of points.
Redeem to the max.When it's time to redeem points, it's highly recommended that you pay off your balance first to maximize the cash back you have available.
You can redeem your cash back points in the form of a check, statement credit, or a gift card.
"Are there any restrictions on earning "unlimited" cash back?"
You only earn cash back on purchases.The Citi Double Cash Card doesn't give you any cash back points for a balance transfer.
With this credit card offer, there are also no points for cash advances, account fees, the interest you pay using the card, or items that get returned.
But for all other purchases, you can earn 1% cash back twice with no limit.
Take advantage of the 18-month 0% APR balance transfer intro offer when you apply
Pay off the principal on your debt, not the interest. Since the 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 18 months is the only intro offer, you should make the most of it.
If you're struggling with a balance on an existing card that's charging a high APR, you can transfer it over after you get approved for the Citi Double Cash Card.
Instead of paying interest, you'll be paying down the principal for the first year and a half. And you don't pay a fee for the balance transfer.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
You don't have to pay a fee to earn cash back. Our second favorite No annual fee credit cards is also good for earning cash back.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited card's cash back reward program's earning rate of 1.5 points per dollar for every transaction isn't quite as much cash back as the Citi Double Cash Card. But it also comes with a $150 introductory bonus offer.
Good news and bad news for transferring a balance.People love the 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers with the Chase Freedom Unlimited card.
But they don't like getting charged a 5% balance transfer fee (with a minimum charge of $5) on the amount they transfer over.
It's easy to earn a $150 sign-up bonus, and an extra $25 bonus too
A cash gift for joining.Unlike the Citi Double Cash Card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card gives a $150 new cardmember bonus. We definitely like to see a sign-up bonus for a credit card offer.
Reasonable terms to claim your $150.A lot of rewards cards that offer a bonus for sign-up require you to spend thousands of dollars in the first few months to collect it.
But with the Chase Freedom Unlimited card's reward program you get a $150 sign-up bonus for only spending $500 on purchases in the first three months.
Add a partner for acash reward.Then you get an extra $25 bonus when you add an authorized user and make a purchase transaction within the first three months. All you have to do is add a family member and you'll have $175 in total bonuses for signing up.
Earning and redeeming points is easy and straightforward
Straightforward and easy cash back program.Unlike its close relative the Chase Freedom card (which also comes with No annual fee), the Chase Freedom Unlimited does not have rotating categories that offer 5% in cash back rewards up to a certain limit.
It's way more straightforward: you earn unlimited 1.5% on all purchases.
Points are redeemed at a rate of 100 reward points for every dollar. The $150 introductory bonus is awarded as 15,000 bonus points.
Flexible options for redeeming.You can redeem any amount of points for cash as an account statement credit, as a check, or as a deposit into a savings account. You can also use them for gift cards and travel.
Your points don't expire until your account closes.
"Does the Chase Freedom Unlimited card come with protections?"
You're well protected.If you're concerned about security, the Chase Freedom Unlimited has a whole list of built-in protections.
Fraud protections include zero liability and chip-enable security.
Protections for consumers include purchases protection and extended warranty.
You're even covered for auto rental collisions.
Make the most of the 15-month 0% APR when you sign up
Time to go shopping.For the first 15 months after you sign up for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, you won't be charged interest on balances that have been transferred or on purchases.
So, it makes sense to time your sign-up with big upcoming purchases on the horizon. It will be like getting 0% financing on whatever you buy for the card's first 18 months.
Once the intro APR offer is done after 18 months, the APR will be 15.99% to 24.74% based on your credit score. You'll need an "Excellent" or "Good" credit score to qualify for the best APR offer.
You could also transfer a balance.If you have a balance sitting on another card racking up interest, you might as well move it over as soon as you sign up. But be prepared to pay that 5% balance transfer fee on the transaction.
Discover it Cash Back Match
The best introductory bonus incentive. The $150 sign-up bonus offered by Chase Freedom Unlimited was better than the $0 sign-up bonus from the Citi Double Cash Card. But it's not as impressive as our pick for the No annual feecard with the best introductory bonus offer.
The Discover it Cash Back Match reward program will double whatever points you earn in the first 12 months after you sign up.
With the chance to earn 5% on spending in certain categories, you could have yourself a very lucrative first year.
Leniency for lateness.People love that you can make your first late payment without being charged a late fee. And that your APR won't go up if you're late with a payment.
Discover is not a universally accepted card. But customers don't like that Discover cards are not accepted everywhere, especially when they're overseas.
Max your spending in year one (especially in rotating 5% categories) to earn a huge introductory bonus
Do the work, get the big bonus.The Discover it Cash Back Match offers one of the biggest potential sign up bonuses in the industry. But you need to do some work to make the most of the offer.
Staying on top of rotating categories pays off.Every quarter (3 months) the 5% cash back bonus rotates to a different category or retailer.
From October to December you get 5% for spending at Target and Amazon.com.
From January to March it's for every transaction at gas stations and wholesale clubs.
April to June offers 5% cash back on groceries.
And from July to September the 5% rate applies to restaurant purchases.
If you're willing to register every quarter and pay attention to these categories, you can earn yourself a huge chunk of cash back after the first 12 months of signing up.
For all other purchases, you'll earn 1% unlimited cash back rewards.
Your points never expire, and you can redeem them lots of different ways
Get creative when redeeming your points. Your reward points never expire. If you close your account, you get a statement credit for the value of your unspent points.
There are several options for spending your points.
You can redeem for gift cards and e-certificates with extra value features.
Amazon.com honors Discover it cash reward points when you're checking out.
You can redeem your points for cash in the form of a statement credit or have it deposited into your bank account at any time.
Or, if you're feeling generous, you can even donate your rewards to charity.
"Is there an intro APR offer?"
No APR for over a year.There is a 14-month 0% APR intro offer on purchases and balance transfers. But be ready to pay a 3% balance transfer fee.
Lowest APR among the cards reviewed here. After the first 14 months, the Standard Variable Purchase APR is set between 11.99% and 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. So, if you have a good credit score the APR on the Discover it Cash Back Match is the lowest among the top three cards we've reviewed here.
Sources suggest that you need a minimum 648 credit score to get approved for the Discover it Cash Back Match. But to get a good APR offer you should have a credit score between 680 and 720 at least.
It's best to apply when you know you have a big upcoming expense
Think big for year one spending.If you plan to redecorate your bedroom or renovate your kitchen soon, it would be the perfect time to sign up for the Discover it Cash Back Match card's reward program.
You'll get 0% APR on the purchases for the first 14 months. And all the cash back you earn on your spending in the first year is doubled.
If you can also focus on spending in the reward program's rotating categories, you'll get a huge year-end bonus.
Bank of America Travel Rewards
The best no annual fee card for travel rewards.Travel rewards credit cards often come with hefty annual fees. But not the Bank of America Travel Rewards card.
Our favorite No annual fee travel rewards card also gives 1.5% reward miles on all purchases. And if you have a savings or checking account with Bank of America, you get an extra 10% (which means you earn 1.65% on everything).
Double points for booking travel through them.But if you book travel through Bank of America's travel center you can earn 3% travel miles reward points. That turns into 3.3% reward miles earned if you bank with Bank of America.
The fact that there is no foreign transaction fee also helps make this a great card for traveling.
People love or hate the Preferred program. People who are willing to go all-in with Bank of America love that their reward miles bonus goes up 25%-75% if they are members of the Bank of America Preferred reward program.
But folks are often disappointed to learn that in order to be accepted into the Preferred reward program, you to have at least $20,000 invested with Bank of America.
You can earn $200 in travel credit just for signing up
Big sign-up bonus gets you traveling sooner.The Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card gives new cardholders 20,000 bonus reward mile points as long as they make $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days.
If those reward mile points are redeemed for a statement credit that could be a $200 head start towards a flight or hotel.
Redeem points for flights, hotels, and other travel costs
Cash your points in for travel.When you spend on air travel, hotel stays, cruises, vacation packages, and other travel costs, you can redeem your travel mile reward points for a statement credit.
Book through the Travel Center and get even more points.You can also use your travel mile reward points to book travel directly through Bank of America's Travel Center.
If you pay cash for travel purchases through the Bank of America Travel Center, you earn double the travel mile reward points you would earn if you booked your travel elsewhere.
So, you can earn 3% in travel mile reward points if you book through that channel.
"Is there an introductory APR rate for purchases or balance transfers?"
Not a great card for transferring a balance.The balance transfer APR is 15.99% to 23.99% based on creditworthiness right from day one. And the balance transfer fee is either 3% or $10 (depending on what's greater).
The Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card does have a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months for purchases. After that, the APR will be set between 15.99% and 23.99%. That's pretty high.
The typical low credit score for getting approved for the Bank of American Travel Rewards Credit Card is 687. The average credit score for approval is 750.
Apply when you're about travel to earn 3% travel rewards
Break-in the new card by booking a dream trip. If you know you have a big family vacation coming up, sign up for the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card.
You can book using the card through the Bank of America's Travel Center and earn 3% on what you spend.
When you book your vacay, you'll probably spend more than the $1,000 you need to earn the reward program's 20,000 bonus points intro offer. That means you'll be well on your way to earning enough points for your next trip.
"No annual fee" should not mean "no rewards"
Stop earning points just to pay your annual fee.
With a lot of rewards credit cards, your first task is figuring out how much you have to spend to earn enough cash back to cover the annual fee.
With the four cards we've reviewed here, you don't have to do that.
They all come with great rewards, and you don't have to pay a fee to start earning.
You can stop shopping around for a card with a low annual fee, or a no annual fee intro offer.
Don't settle for anything less than a permanent $0 annual fee. Then you can make your choice based on the rewards and bonus offers a No annual fee credit card gives you.