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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
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Credit Cards

The best cash-back credit cards with no annual fee of July 2021

We analyzed 44 of the most popular cash-back credit cards using an average American's annual budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best no annual fee cash-back credit cards based on your spending habits.

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Cash-back credit cards can be a great way to make money off your normal spending, but if you don't want to pay an annual fee in order to reap rewards, there are plenty of options without a yearly charge.

To help you get the right card for your needs, we analyzed 44 popular cash-back cards without an annual fee using an average American's annual spending budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best of the best based on your consumer habits. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)

It's no wonder these cards are the most popular choice among credit cardholders: Based on our calculations, you could earn more than $2,000 over five years if you choose one of the cards on this list.

Here are Select's top seven cash-back credit cards with no-annual-fee:

Winner

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    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% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining (including takeout) and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 23.74% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Long intro 0% APR period for purchases
  • Rewards can be transferred to a Chase Ultimate Rewards card
  • Generous welcome bonus

Cons

  • Below average 1.5% cash back on non-bonus category purchases
  • 3% fee charged on foreign transactions
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $847
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,709

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? Consumers who want a robust rewards card with no annual fee should consider the Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card. Cardholders earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on drugstores and dining (including takeout) and 1.5% on all other purchases.

If you're looking to maximize your rewards, there's also a generous welcome bonus with a low spending requirement: Earn $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.

This card has no annual fee, and you can benefit from a 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR).

This card also offers 5% cash back on Lyft purchases through March 2022 and complimentary three months of DashPass with 50% off for the next nine months. Simply activate by December 31, 2021.

Runner-Up

Citi® Double Cash Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    2% cash back: 1% on all eligible purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% - 23.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 2% cash back on all purchases
  • Simple cash-back program that doesn't require activation or spending caps
  • One of the longest intro periods for balance transfers at 18 months

Cons

  • No welcome bonus, so you can’t maximize rewards during the first few months of card opening
  • Minimum cash-back redemption of $25
  • 3% fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $443
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,213

Who's this for? Cardholders who want to earn cash back without a lot of fuss should consider the Citi® Double Cash Card. This card set the standard for flat-rate cash-back cards when it hit the market in 2014 and is still one of the best on the market.

You can earn 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase and an additional 1% when you pay your credit card bill. Cardholders can redeem the cash back for statement credits or checks once they've earned $25 worth of points.

The card is also good for anyone looking to consolidate their debt: The Citi Double Cash Card offers an introductory 0% APR for the first 18 months on balance transfers (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR). There is a 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $5), and if you have debt on another Citi-branded card, you can't transfer it to the Double Cash card.

This card isn't so great for travelers, as it comes with a 3% fee on all foreign transactions and cash back can't be redeemed for travel purchases.

Best for Rotating Bonus Categories

Chase Freedom Flex℠

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    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% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%), 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on dining and at drug stores, 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 23.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • Opportunity to earn up to 5% cash back in select categories upon activation
  • Rewards can be transferred to a Chase Ultimate Rewards card

Cons

  • Bonus categories must be activated each quarter
  • 3% fee charged on foreign transactions
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $814
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,647

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? If you're looking to maximize rewards, consider a rotating bonus category card like the Chase Freedom Flex℠. This card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate, then 1%. Bonus categories are currently wholesale clubs*, cable, internet, and phone services and select streaming services**. (Check out the full Chase Freedom cash-back calendar.)

In addition to rotating rewards, you can earn 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, 3% cash back on dining and at drug stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The Freedom Flex card also has no annual fee and offers a competitive 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR). Plus you can benefit from World Elite Mastercard benefits, such as cell phone protection and Fandango credits.

*The Chase Freedom Flex is a Mastercard, which is only accepted online at Costco.com, not in-warehouse. Learn more about what credit cards Costco accepts.

**Eligible streaming services include: Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Netflix, Sling, Vudu, Fubo TV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube TV.

Best for Online Shopping

PayPal Cashback Mastercard®

Information about the PayPal Cashback Mastercard® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    2% cash back on all purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    21.49% to 28.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Competitive 2% cash back on everything you purchase
  • Rewards can be redeemed at any amount, without the typical $25 minimum
  • Easily integrates with your PayPal account
  • No fee on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Cash-back redemptions are limited to deposits to your PayPal account, your linked bank account or debit card
  • No introductory 0% APR for purchases or balance transfers
  • High APR range of 21.49% to 28.49%
  • No welcome bonus, so you can’t maximize rewards during the first few months of card opening
  • Estimated cash back earned after 1 year: $443
  • Estimated cash back earned after 5 years: $2,213

Who's this for? Fans of PayPal and frequent online shoppers will want to check out the PayPal Cashback Mastercard®. It's another 2% cash-back card that lets you earn the same amount of rewards on all purchases. A PayPal account is required to open this card, but if you don't have one yet, no worries — accounts are free.

This card links to your PayPal account, which is great if you're a fan of the platform since your rewards can be applied directly to your PayPal balance. But this may be a hassle for people who don't like PayPal or want other cash-back redemption options, such as gift cards and travel rewards. On the other hand, it's great for fans of online shopping, as PayPal is accepted at 19 million online retailers.

While the PayPal Cashback Mastercard® cash-back program is competitive and earns you the same amount of rewards as the Citi® Double Cash Card, this card doesn't offer any welcome bonus or introductory 0% APR offers, which is why it comes behind the Citi® Double Cash Card and the PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card.

Best for Foodies

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Information about the Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 3% on eligible streaming services, 3% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

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

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% introductory APR for the first 15 months that your account is open

  • Regular APR

    15.49% to 25.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 3% cash back on dining and entertainment purchases and 3% at grocery stores
  • Ability to redeem rewards at any amount, unlike some other cards with $25 minimums
  • Competitive special financing offer on both new purchases and balance transfers
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • 3% fee for promotional balance transfer offers
  • Only consumers with good to excellent credit typically qualify
  • Estimated cash back earned after 1 year: $546
  • Estimated cash back earned after 5 years: $1,932

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? Foodies and entertainment junkies can maximize rewards with the Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, which provides one of the highest cash-back rates on dining and entertainment purchases at 3%.

Plus, this card has one of the best welcome bonuses on the market: If cardholders spend $500 within the first three months of account opening, they earn a $200 bonus — that's like earning 40% cash back.

Additionally, cardholders who need to finance upcoming purchases or refinance debt can benefit from 15 months of no interest (after it's a 15.49% - 25.49% variable APR). Capital One notes on its site that this is a card for people with excellent credit. While there isn't a specific score given, excellent credit is usually 800 or above. (Read more about credit scores here.)

The SavorOne Cash Rewards Card also offers a slew of other perks, such as access to exclusive entertainment events (concerts, food experiences, sporting events) and no foreign transaction fees (which is not a typical perk for a no-annual-fee cash-back card).

Best for Groceries

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores, 1% cash back on other purchases. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits.

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 20% back on Amazon.com purchases on the card within the first six months of membership, up to $150 back. Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card within the first six months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases, N/A for balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees and our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 a year, then 1%)
  • Unlimited 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores
  • Amex Offers, which provide statement credits or opportunity to earn more rewards at select merchants

Cons

  • 2.7% fee on purchases made abroad
  • Not great for people who don’t regularly go grocery shopping
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $547
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,935

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is a competitive no-annual-fee card for grocery shoppers. You earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).

You can also earn unlimited 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. This is a nice added bonus since all other purchases earn a standard 1% cash back.

This card comes with access to Amex Offers, which provides statement credits or a chance to receive additional rewards when shopping at select retailers. A recent offer, for example, gave cardholders $20 back when they spent $75 or more at Boxed. These limited-time offers are location-based and additional terms apply.

You can also use this card to finance new purchases thanks to the introductory 0% APR for the first 15 months from account opening. Once the intro period ends, a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR applies.

This card is also a good no-annual-fee alternative to its counterpart, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%) — but with a $95 annual fee. (*See rates and fees.)

Best Credit Union

PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card

On PenFed's secure site
  • Rewards

    1.5% cash back on all purchases, 2% cash back on all purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage members

  • Welcome bonus

    $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Promo APR

    0% promotional balance transfer rate for 12 months on transfers made from now until September 30, 2021*

  • Regular APR

    14.99% to 17.99% variable on purchases; 17.99% non-variable on balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 2% cash back on all purchases for PenFed Honors Advantage members
  • Welcome bonus, which is hard to find among flat-rate cash-back cards with no annual fee
  • No bonus category activations or limits to the amount of cash back you can earn

Cons

  • 3% balance transfer fee
  • Credit union membership is required
  • Estimated cash back earned after 1 year: $543
  • Estimated cash back earned after 5 years: $2,313

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus and assumes you're a PenFed Honors Advantage member, earning 2% cash back

*After the promotional balance transfer period, the APR for the unpaid balance and any new balance transfers will be 17.99%. A 3% balance transfer fee applies to each transfer. This transaction is subject to credit approval. If you take advantage of this balance transfer, you will immediately be charged interest on all purchases made with your credit card unless you pay the entire account balance, including balance transfers, in full each month by the payment due date.

Who's this for? If you don't mind doing a little extra work, the PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card can net you $100 more in cash back than the Citi Double Cash Card in the first year thanks to its welcome bonus worth $100 after you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days from account opening. Cardholders get 1.5% cash back on all purchases, but that increases to 2% cash back on every purchase if you're a PenFed Honors Advantage member (which requires a qualifying checking account or military affiliation).

PenFed is a credit union, so membership is required to open a card. Anyone can join by applying, opening a savings account with a $5 deposit and maintaining a $5 account balance.

To earn the higher cash-back rate, you need to become an Honors Advantage member in one of several ways: be in an active military service status, a member of the Reserves or National Guard, an honorably discharged U.S. military veteran or retired from such service; be the primary owner on both the credit card and checking accounts of any existing open PenFed product (excluding PenCheck Limited accounts); or open a new Access America checking account (which requires a daily balance or monthly direct deposit of $500 or more to waive the $10 monthly service fee).

Cardholders can redeem their cash back for statement credits, deposit it into their PenFed account or transfer it to another financial institution.

Best cash-back cards with no annual fee

Category Credit Card Estimated rewards earned after five years
WinnerChase Freedom Unlimited® Card$2709
Runner-UpCiti® Double Cash Card$2213
Best for Rotating Bonus CategoriesChase Freedom Flex℠$2647
Best for Online ShoppingPayPal Cashback Mastercard®$2213
Best for FoodiesCapital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card$1932
Best for GroceriesBlue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express$1885
Best Credit UnionPenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card$2313

Our methodology

To determine which cards offer the best value, Select analyzed over 44 of the most popular cash-back credit cards available in the U.S. that don't come with an annual fee. We excluded cards that have no annual fee but require a membership fee.

We compared each card on a range of features, including cash-back rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit score and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.