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The best no annual fee credit cards of November 2019

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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:

Best for cash back: Citi® Double Cash Card

Best for cash back: Citi® Double Cash Card
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  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Rewards

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

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 18 months on balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Variable APR

    15.49% to 25.49%

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year

    $437

  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years

    $2,185

  • 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.

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.

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 15.49% to 25.49% 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.)

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On Citi's Secured Site

Best for balance transfers: Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

Best for balance transfers: Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
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Information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.
  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Rewards

    2X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 1X Membership Rewards® points per dollar spent on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    $0

  • Variable APR

    14.49% to 25.49%

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year

    $369*

  • Estimated rewards return after 5 years

    $1,444

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • One of the longest intro periods for a no-fee balance transfer card
  • Rewards program and welcome bonus, which is rare among no-fee balance transfer cards
  • 20% extra point bonus when you make 20 or more purchases in a billing period

Cons

  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee
  • Balances must be transferred within 60 days from account opening

Who's this for? If you're struggling to pay down a balance on a credit card that has a high APR, you might want to consider a balance transfer card like the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card. This card provides the chance to get out of debt, finance new purchases and earn rewards — all for no annual fee. (The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card is CNBC Select's pick for the best balance transfer card, but all the cards on that list have no annual fee. Check it out, if this isn't quite the right card for you.)

Cardholders can take advantage of 0% APR for the first 15 months on both balance transfers and purchases (after, 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR). This card has no balance transfer fee, so you won't incur the typical 3% to 5% fee many other cards charge, which adds to your savings. Balance transfers must be made within 60 days from account opening to qualify for the no interest period.

Who's this for? If you're struggling to pay down a balance on a credit card that has a high APR, you might want to consider a balance transfer card like the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card. This card provides the chance to get out of debt, finance new purchases and earn rewards — all for no annual fee. (The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card is CNBC Select's pick for the best balance transfer card, but all the cards on that list have no annual fee. Check it out, if this isn't quite the right card for you.)

Cardholders can take advantage of 0% APR for the first 15 months on both balance transfers and purchases (after, 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR). This card has no balance transfer fee, so you won't incur the typical 3% to 5% fee many other cards charge, which adds to your savings. Balance transfers must be made within 60 days from account opening to qualify for the no interest period.

Beyond special financing, the card comes with a strong rewards program. You can earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you make $1,000 in purchases in the first three months after card opening. Cardholders get 2X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%) and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, when you make 20 or more purchases in a billing period, you receive 20% extra points.

The value of Membership Rewards® points varies depending on how cardholders redeem them. You can use them in a variety of ways, from paying with points at checkout at stores like Amazon to redeeming for gift cards or a statement credit to booking travel. See more on how points are calculated.

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card also comes with a slew of other perks including car rental loss and damage insurance, free two-day shipping at select online retailers with ShopRunner and cell phone protection.

*First year rewards total incorporates the points earned from the welcome bonus

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Information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

Best for low interest: Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union

Best for low interest: Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union
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Information about the Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards 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.
  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Rewards

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

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 7,500 points when you spend $500 within the first 90 days

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers processed within the first 90 days of account opening

  • Balance transfer fee

    1.50%, $50 minimum

  • Variable APR

    7.99% to 18.00%

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Estimated return after 1 year

    $514*

  • Estimated return after 5 years

    $2,270

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Low 7.99% to 18.00% variable APR
  • 0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Credit union membership required, though it’s free
  • 1.5% balance transfer fee, with a $50 minimum fee

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 7.99% and caps at 18.00%. 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 7,500 points after you spend $500 within the first 90 days.

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 7.99% and caps at 18.00%. 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 7,500 points after you spend $500 within the first 90 days.

When you open this card, you can also benefit from a 0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers processed within 90 days of account opening date. The balance transfer fee is 1.5% and has a $50 minimum.

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.

*First year rewards total incorporates the points earned from the welcome bonus

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Information about the Visa® Titanium Signature Rewards 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.

Best for building credit: Discover it® Secured

Best for building credit: Discover it® Secured
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On Discover's Secured Site
  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Minimum security deposit

    $200

  • Rewards

    2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1%); unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    At the end of your first year, Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earned

  • Regular variable APR

    24.49%

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • For secured credit cards, CNBC Select did not analyze how much cash back you can earn.

  • See rates and fees and our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Discover automatically reviews your credit card account monthly, starting at eight months, to see if your security deposit can be returned while you continue to enjoy your card benefits
  • Strong cash-back rewards program
  • Simple welcome bonus with no minimum spending requirements
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Low credit limit prevents cardholders from charging high-cost items or many expenses
  • You have to have a Social Security number and U.S. bank account to apply for this card
  • Relatively high 24.49% variable APR
  • Discover isn’t as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard

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.

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.

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Best for travel: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Best for travel: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
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Information about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3X points on gas, dining out and ordering in; rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services; 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • Variable APR

    15.49% to 27.49%

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year

    $680*

  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years

    $2,199

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Strong rewards program with 3X points in a wide range of categories
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • No blackout dates on air travel when redeemed through Go Far Rewards

Cons

  • You must have a rewards balance of at least 2,500 points before you can start redeeming them
  • Balance transfers incur a 3% fee ($5 minimum)
  • American Express isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard

Who's this for? The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has a strong rewards program for a no annual fee 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.

Who's this for? The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has a strong rewards program for a no annual fee 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 15.49% to 27.49% 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 bill with your Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card).

*First year rewards total incorporates the points earned from the welcome bonus

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Information about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

Our methodology

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 2018 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 $21,852 in retail spending. This budget is comprised of the most common spending categories, including groceries ($5,019), gas ($2,394), dining out ($3,365), travel ($2,154), utilities ($4,959) and general purchases ($3,961). 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.

Best no annual fee credit cards of 2019

Best for… Credit Card Estimated rewards earned after 5 years
Cash backCiti® Double Cash Card$2,185
Balance transfersAmex EveryDay® Credit Card$1,494
Low interestVisa® Titanium Signature Rewards Card from Andrews Federal Credit Union$2,270
Building creditDiscover it® SecuredN/A
TravelWells Fargo Propel American Express® Card$2,199
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.