When applying for a new card, it's really important to take the annual fee into consideration. While you usually get a lot of perks and can earn more rewards when you pay a big fee that extra cost doesn't always provide the best value for everyone.
A May 2019 survey from Discover found that 66% of consumers said a credit card's annual fee factors into their selection of it and most people who pay an annual fee reported paying between $51 and $100. And 54% of consumers actively considering switching credit cards stated the number one reason was to avoid paying an annual fee.
Credit cards with annual fees under $100 can still offer competitive rewards, special financing and money-saving perks without the steep costs (upwards of $550) that with a premium card.
Of course, if you don't want to pay anything to have a credit card, there are plenty of good options that have no annual fee.
Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top credit cards with annual fees under $100:
5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase
50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
N/A for purchases and balance transfers
17.24% to 24.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
Who's this for? The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers the best rewards rate on select hotel purchases: Earn 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠ and 2X miles per dollar spent on all other spending, which is a great flat rate. While Venture does come with a $95 annual fee, it's low compared to some other rewards cards, with some annual fees up to $550.
In addition to rewards, every four years cardholders receive a credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application, up to $100. If you travel often, this is a great perk that can save you time and money.
This card has no foreign transaction fees and comes with a bunch of additional travel perks, such as travel accident insurance, 24-hour travel assistance services and an auto rental collision damage waiver.
2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle)
$99, waived the first year
12.24% to 22.24% variable
Who's this for? If you're looking for a first-in-class cash-back card, then this may be the card for you. The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card offers an industry-leading 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle), which is ideal for anyone looking for an easy-to-use rewards card. There are no bonus categories or activation required, so this card is a simple way to maximize cash back on everyday spending.
This card doesn't have many of the bells and whistles that other cards on this list have, but it does offer a competitive 12.24% to 22.24% variable APR. Compared to other rewards cards, this is in the low range, which may be helpful if you happen to carry a balance month-to-month. (We recommend you always pay on time and in full.)
While this card has a strong cash-back program, it does come with a $99 annual fee (though it's waived the first year). It's not the highest when compared to other rewards cards, but you can find a range of cash-back cards with no annual fees.
You also have to become a member of Alliant Credit Union and open an account in order to qualify for this card. The easiest way to become a member is by supporting Alliant's partner charity, Foster Care to Success. You don't need to pay the charity directly — Alliant pays $5 on your behalf when you apply to join the credit union. Membership is also open to family members of current members, employees of partner organizations or those who live or work in qualifying towns and communities near Chicago's O'Hare International airport.
Overall, the numbers indicate that it's worth it to overcome these relatively minor obstacles in order to get the card's generous cash-back rate on all your purchases. If you don't want to make that trade off, though, there are a number of other strong cash-back options that don't require you to join a credit union.
5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 2X points on travel and dining worldwide, 1X points on all other purchases
60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
15.99% to 22.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card is one of the best travel cards available with a competitive rewards program and generous welcome bonus. Cardholders earn 2X points on travel and dining worldwide and 1X points on all other purchases.
This card stands out from the pack thanks to the strong rewards rate when you redeem points for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Points are worth 25% more, so 60,000 points are worth $750 towards travel. This is a great way to maximize the value of points and the welcome bonus.
Beyond rewards, cardholders can benefit from helpful travel perks, such as no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, travel and emergency assistance services, baggage delay insurance and trip delay reimbursement.
6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on other purchases
$250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases on your new card within the first 3 months
0% for the first 12 months on purchases, N/A for balance transfers
13.99% to 23.99% variable
Who's this for? The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers one of the most competitive welcome bonuses: Earn $250 after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months from account opening. That's like earning 25% cash back!
Frequent grocery shoppers will be happy to learn the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers the highest cash-back rate at U.S. supermarkets at 6% (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). The average American can earn $301 in cash back each year when they do their shopping at qualifying supermarkets.
If you want to maximize cash back on groceries, this card is for you. In addition to high grocery rewards, there's an unlimited 6% cash back on select streaming subscriptions, unlimited 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, unlimited 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Cardmembers can also take advantage of Amex Offers, where users earn a statement credit or additional cash back at select retailers. For example, a recent offer gave you $25 back each month (up to three times), if you spent $70 or more a month on Sun Basket meal kit delivery. These limited-time offers are location-based and additional terms apply.
This card does come with a $95 annual fee, but it can be offset by the cash back you earn and discounts you can get through the Amex Offers.
3X points on travel, 2X points on dining, 1X points on all other purchases
Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days
$0 the first year, then $75
0% for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers made in the first 90 days of account opening
6.99% to 18.00% variable
Who's this for? The Odyssey Rewards World Elite Mastercard® from First Tech® Federal Credit Union provides a great opportunity to consolidate your credit card debt, while still earning rewards on everyday purchases. Cardholders benefit from a 0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles and no balance transfer fee (after that it's a lower-than-average 12.49% to 18.00% variable). Balance transfers must be completed within 90 days from account opening to qualify for the interest-free financing period. (Don't want to pay? Check out CNBC Select's round-up of best balance transfer cards, which offer a variety of choices with no annual fee.)
Cardholders can earn rewards on new purchases with 3X points on travel, 2X points on dining and 1X points on all other purchases.
The Odyssey Rewards World Elite Mastercard® also comes with premium travel benefits, such as worldwide travel accident and baggage delay insurance, trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, travel assistance services and roadside assistance.
This card requires membership to First Tech Federal Credit Union, but anyone can join. Qualify through affiliation with select organizations or employers, a relationship with a current member, working or living in Lane County, Oregon, attending Cogswell Poly Technical College or by joining the Community History Museum (CHM) or Financial Fitness Association (FFA). First Tech pays the membership fee for the CHM and FFA on your behalf.
Learn more: When will my credit card annual fee be charged?
To determine which credit cards offer the best value with a low annual fee, CNBC Select analyzed 50 of the most popular credit cards offered by the biggest banks, financial companies, and credit unions that allow anyone to join and have annual fees under $100. We compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fees and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit score and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.
CNBC 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.
CNBC 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.
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For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.