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Credit Cards

The best no annual fee credit cards of August 2021

We analyzed 160 credit cards that charge no annual fee using an average American's annual budget and digging into each card to find the best based on your spending habits.

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If you're looking for a credit card but unwilling to fork over money for an annual fee, you're not alone.

A May 2019 survey from Discover found that 60% of consumers say that having no annual fee is a very important factor when they choose a card. And 70% of consumers are very satisfied with their no annual fee cards, while only 35% of consumers are equally satisfied with their cards that charge an annual fee.

The best no annual fee cards still offer a lot of perks: competitive rewards programs, intro 0% APR periods and low interest rates. And depending on your spending habits, they could offer more value than a card that comes with a steep annual fee (some upwards of $500).

Below, Select reviewed the best no annual fee credit cards in a range of categories for consumers who are looking to get the most bang for their buck.

Here are the best no annual fee credit cards:

Best for Cash Back

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? The Citi® Double Cash Card is a straightforward rewards card that continues to offer one of the best flat-rate cash-back programs since it launched in 2014. Cardholders earn 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase and an additional 1% when you pay your credit card bill.

There is no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn and you don't have to worry about activating bonus categories. Cash back can be redeemed for a statement credit or direct deposit.

This card is also a good choice for debt consolidation. There's a 0% APR for the first 18 months on balance transfers (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR). Just make sure you transfer balances within four months from account opening. There is a 3% balance transfer fee (minimum $5), which can be outweighed by the amount you save on interest. (See more on how to make the most of a balance transfer.)

Best for Balance Transfers

Citi Simplicity® Card

On Citi's secure site
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 months on purchases and balance transfers (balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening)

  • Regular APR

    14.74% to 24.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Balances can be transferred within 4 months from account opening
  • One of the longest intro periods for balance transfers at 18 months

Cons

  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • No rewards program

Who's this for? The Citi Simplicity® Card offers the longest balance transfer intro period at 0% for the first 18 months (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR). Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening. This is nearly two years to pay off debt, which can be helpful if you have a large balance or if your cash flow doesn't allow you to pay off debt within the 6-, 12-, 15- or 18-month time periods of other balance transfer cards.

This card has no annual fee, but it does come with one of the steeper balance transfer fees: 3% (minimum $5). But this can be worthwhile if you're paying high interest charges.

New cardholders have four months to complete their balance transfer (longer than the typical 60 to 90 days). While you have more time to complete a transfer, the intro APR period starts at account opening — so try to make the transfer as soon as possible to get the most benefit of the interest-free period.

This card also offers 0% APR for the first 18 months on purchases (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR) and never charges late fees (though we always recommend you pay your balance on time and in full). There isn't a welcome bonus or a rewards program.

Best for Low Interest

Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union

Information about the Titanium Rewards Visa® Signature Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3X points on gas and grocery purchases and 1.5X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 10,000 points when you spend $1,500 within the first 90 days

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    9.49% to 16.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    1.50%, $50 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Low 9.49% to 16.49% variable APR
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Credit union membership required, though it’s free
  • No special financing on purchases or balance transfers
  • Balance transfer fee of 1.5%, or $50, whichever is greater.
  • Estimated return after 1 year: $543
  • Estimated return after 5 years: $2,314

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union is a great choice for people who carry a balance month-to-month (though CNBC Select recommends you pay your credit card balance on time and in full every month). The variable interest rate starts at a low 9.49% and caps at 16.49%. If you qualify for one of the lowest rates, you can save on interest charges.

In addition to low interest, this card offers a strong rewards program. Earn 3X points on gas and grocery purchases and 1.5X points on all other purchases. Plus, there's a welcome bonus of 10,000 points after you spend $1,500 within the first 90 days.

Credit union membership is required for this card, but anyone can join Andrews Federal Credit Union. If you don't meet the qualification requirements, you can opt to join the American Consumer Council (ACC). Simply enter promo code "Andrews" to join the ACC at no charge.

Best for Building Credit

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

On Discover's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

  • Welcome bonus

    Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    N/A on purchases

  • Regular APR

    22.99% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    New / Rebuilding

Pros

  • Cash-back program
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • Discover automatically reviews your credit card account starting at eight months to see if they can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit

Cons

  • Cash-back program limits earnings: 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%
  • Low credit line prevents cardholders from charging high-cost items or many expenses

Who's this for: The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a well-rounded secured card that offers many benefits that are typically found with unsecured cards. Cardholders can earn cash back, receive a generous welcome bonus, use the card overseas without incurring added fees and more — all for no annual fee.

Cardholders earn a competitive 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%. Plus, you can earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases automatically. The welcome bonus is also unique: For new card members in the first year only, Discover will automatically match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year. So, if you earn $50 cash back at the end of the first year, Discover will give you an additional $50.

This card requires a minimum $200 security deposit, which is fairly standard for secured credit cards. It stands out from the crowd because it gives users a clear path to upgrading to an unsecured card (and getting their deposit back). Starting at eight months from account opening, Discover will automatically review your credit card account to see if they can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit. This takes the guesswork out of wondering when you'll qualify for an unsecured credit card.

Best Welcome Bonus

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card

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

    1.5% cash back on every purchase

  • 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% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • 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

  • No annual fee
  • Low spending requirement for the welcome bonus
  • Redeem cash back for any amount at any time
  • 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • 3% balance transfer fee during the first 15 months your account is open
  • No bonus rewards categories
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $532
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,859

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great choice for consumers looking for a no-annual-fee credit card that has a generous welcome bonus. Cardholders earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within three months from account opening. That's a 40% return.

This card has a straightforward cash-back program where you can earn 1.5% cash back on everything you buy. Cash back can be conveniently redeemed at any time and for any amount.

In addition to rewards, you can finance new purchases or transfer debt with a 0% APR for the first 15 months from account opening (then 15.74% to 25.74% variable APR).

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card has no foreign transaction fee and provides travel accident insurance, 24-hour travel assistance, extended warranty protection and access to premier culinary, entertainment and sports event experiences.

Learn more: When will my credit card annual fee be charged?

Best no annual fee credit cards

Best for… Credit Card Estimated rewards earned after 5 years
Cash backCiti® Double Cash Card$2213
Balance transfersCiti Simplicity® CardN/A
Low interestVisa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union$2314
Building creditDiscover it® Secured Credit CardN/A
Best welcome bonusCapital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card$1859

Our methodology

To determine which credit cards offer the best value and no annual fee, Select analyzed 160 of the most popular credit cards offered by the biggest banks, financial companies, and credit unions that allow anyone to join and have no annual fees whatsoever. Credit cards with no annual fee for the first year of account opening but an annual fee in subsequent years were excluded.

We compared each card on a range of features, including: rewards program, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee, welcome bonuses and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.

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.

When evaluating the best secured credit cards, we did not calculate the estimate rewards consumers could earn because secured cards typically come with much smaller spending limits.

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 Discover it® Secured Credit Card, 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.