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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, CNBC 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:
2% cash back: 1% on all purchases and an additional 1% after you pay your credit card bill
No current offer
0% for the first 18 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases
13.99% - 23.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers
3%, minimum $5
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.)
0% for the first 18 months on purchases and balance transfers
14.74% to 24.74% variable
5%, minimum $5
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). 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: 5% (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.
3X points on gas and grocery purchases and 1.5X points on all other purchases
Earn 10,000 points when you spend $1,500 within the first 90 days
N/A for purchases and balance transfers
8.49% to 15.49% variable
1.50%, $50 minimum
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 8.49% and caps at 15.49%. 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.
2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%); unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
At the end of your first year, Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earned
No credit history
*See rates and fees and our methodology, terms apply.
Who's this for: The Discover it® Secured 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. The welcome bonus is also unique: Discover will match any cash back you've earned during the first 12 billing cycles. 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 $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 review your account to see if you can get your security deposit back, which takes the guesswork out of wondering when you'll qualify for an unsecured card.
3X points on dining out and ordering in; gas, rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services. 1X points on all other purchases
20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months
0% APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers
14.49% to 24.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers
Introductory fee of 3% ($5 minimum) for 120 days, then 5% ($5 minimum)
Who's this for? The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has a strong rewards program for a no annual fee travel card: Earn unlimited 3X points on gas, dining out and ordering in; rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services; plus 1X point on all other purchases.
This card is a smart choice for all types of travelers, whether you like to fly, drive or take mass-transit. And this card not only gives you 3X points at gas stations but also on purchases at toll bridges and highways, parking lots and garages. And you earn a competitive 3X points on restaurants and take out, which is great while you're traveling. When you're ready to relax, you can enjoy 3X points on select streaming services.
Wells Fargo makes it easy to redeem points for cash, gift cards or travel. There are no black-out dates when you make reservations through Go Far Rewards, but you can't start redeeming points until you've earned 2,500.
In addition to rewards, this card offers no interest on purchases and balance transfers for a full year (then 14.49% to 24.99% variable APR). If you have large upcoming expenses or debt on a non-Amex card, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card provides a way to finance new and old debt without incurring interest charges. Balance transfers are charged a 3% fee, $5 minimum.
There's also cell phone protection for damage to or theft of your phone up to $600 per claim and $1,200 per 12-month period ($25 deductible applies and you must pay your phone bill with your Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card).
1.5% cash back on every purchase
Earn a one-time $150 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
15.49% to 25.49% variable
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
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 $150 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within three months from account opening. That's a 30% 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?
To determine which credit cards offer the best value and no annual fee, CNBC Select analyzed 159 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.
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.
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.
Information about the Citi Simplicity® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.