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The best no annual fee credit cards of 2020:
- Best for cash back: Citi® Double Cash Card
- Best if you have a Chase Sapphire card: Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- Earns among the highest cash back, if you work for it: Chase Freedom Flex℠
- Best for shopping at U.S. supermarkets: Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
- Get your first year of cash back matched: Discover it® Cash Back
- 3x points on travel, dining, and streaming: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- 1.5% cash back on every purchase: Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Best for small businesses: Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
- Best for earning Amex points: Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
- Best for American, Delta, or United loyalists: Airline co-branded cards
- Please note: the offers mentioned below are subject to change at any time and some may no longer be available.
Many people feel that paying an annual fee for a credit card makes no sense. Why should you pay to spend money?
That's not to say that credit cards with annual fees are never worth it — it's possible to get $2,000 in value in your first year with The Platinum Card® from American Express, for example, but that requires traveling enough to take advantage of its many travel benefits.
But if you don't travel much or don't need bells and whistles like annual statement credits, you can probably do just fine with a card that doesn't charge an annual fee. Plenty of cards without an annual fee offer strong rewards, too, so you're not missing out on points and miles.
We're focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won't be worth it if you're paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it's important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.
The best no-annual-fee credit cards
Citi® Double Cash Card
There's one downside, though: The card doesn't have a sign-up bonus. That said, it's one of the best cash-back cards, and it's simple to use because there are no bonus rewards categories to remember.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
If you decide that you want maximize the value of those points by purchasing travel with a bonus through Chase, or transfer them to frequent flyer partners, you can open a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and pool your points from the two cards. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5% cash back on most purchases (or 1.5 points per dollar spent), so paired with a Sapphire Reserve, it's a great card to use for purchases that aren't made on travel expenses or dining (the Freedom Unlimited also recently started offering bonus cash back on eligible travel, grocery, and drugstore purchases).
The Freedom Unlimited is a fantastic all-around card. However, to get the most value when it's time to spend your points, you need the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred card, too, so you can pool your points. Otherwise, points are only worth 1¢ each no matter how you use them, and they can't be transferred to airline or hotel partners.
Chase Freedom Flex℠
The key difference is how it earns those rewards. Unlike the Chase Freedom Unlimited®— which earns 1.5% cash back (or 1.5 points per dollar spent), the Chase Freedom Flex℠ earns 5% (or 5x) in rotating categories each quarter (once activated) on up to $1,500 spent in that category. For example, the current quarter includes purchases at Walmart and PayPal. You'll also earn 5% cash back on travel purchases made through Chase, 3% back on dining and drugstores, and 1% back on everything else.
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
There's also a "Preferred" version of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express — the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns a bigger 6% back on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets per calendar year (and 1% after), 6% back on select U.S. streaming services, 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit including taxis, rideshares, parking, and tolls, and 1% cash back on everything else. The higher-earning rate on the Preferred makes it worth paying the annual fee — however, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is still a great option if you're opposed to that.
Discover it® Cash Back
The Discover it® Cash Back works similarly to the Chase Freedom Flex℠: It offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in rotating bonus categories, and 1% cash back on everything else.
It doesn't offer the same bonus categories as the Chase Freedom Flex℠, though. While the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is offering bonus cash back on PayPal and Walmart purchases in Q4 of 2020, the Discover it® Cash Back is offering bonus cash back at Amazon, Walmart.com, and Target.com.
The Discover it® Cash Back for one other reason: Discover will match all your cash back after your first cardmember year. So if you earned $500 in cash back in your first year, Discover would match that $500 for a total of $1,000 in cash back. This awesome feature is available on all Discover cards — and all Discover cards have no annual fee.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
This card from Wells Fargo has one of the more attractive rewards programs you'll find from a no-annual-fee card — at least, if you don't want to dive into the complicated world of multiple rewards programs and complex redemptions.
The card earns 3x points on all travel, dining, and select streaming services (and 1x point on everything else). If that sounds familiar, it's because it's almost the same as the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which has a $550 annual fee.
The Propel lets you redeem points for 1¢ each toward cash back, merchandise, travel, and more. It doesn't offer much in the way of additional benefits beyond rewards, though it does come with cell phone protection.
Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card
The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card has no annual fee, and earns 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. In this regard, it's similar to the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, though you can't combine your rewards with other credit cards to redeem them for travel; this is strictly a cash-back card.
There are also no foreign transaction fees, and the card's offering a sign-up bonus of $150 after you spend $500 in the first three months from account opening.
Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
Just like with the two Freedom cards, you can pool the "cash" you earn with points from a points-earning card, effectively converting your cash into (potentially) more valuable points. Alternatively, you can reap the rewards in the form of cash instead.
The Ink Business Cash® Credit Card earns 5% cash back (or 5x points) on the first $25,000 in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone services each card holder year. It earns 2% back (or 2x points) on the first $25,000 in purchases at gas stations and restaurants each year, and 1% (or 1x point) on everything else with no cap.
Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express earns 2x points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of purchases per year, then 1x after that) and at AmexTravel.com, and 1x on everything else. It also offers a 20% bonus on points earned in a billing period when you make 20 or more purchases during that period.
Like most Amex cards, features a few travel and purchase protections, as well as access to the Amex Offers program.
While most people will be better off with a version of the card that has an annual fee, the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, the regular Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is still a strong option — especially since there's no annual fee.
A no-annual-fee airline credit card
- Delta: Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
- American Airlines: American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card
- United: United Gateway℠ Card
Most airline credit cards worth having have an annual fee — although many of them will waive it for the first year. Those cards tend to come with useful benefits for people who fly with the airline, like priority boarding or free checked bags. You can learn more about the best overall airline credit cards here.
However, if you're interested in earning frequent flyer miles with a particular airline through your spending, but don't care about those perks and want to avoid the fee, you have a couple of options.
If you're a Delta flyer, you can go for the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, which offers 2 Delta SkyMiles on every eligible dollar spent with Delta and at restaurants worldwide, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. It also gets you a 20% discount — in the form of a statement credit — on Delta in-flight purchases like food or drinks.
American loyalists can consider the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card. This card offers 2x AAdvantage miles on every dollar spent at grocery stores and with American Airlines, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.
United's no-annual-fee United Gateway℠ Card card earn 3x miles on grocery store purchases (on up to $1,500 per month, then 1x) through the end of September 2021. The card also earns 2x miles on United purchases, gas, public transit, rideshare services, and taxis, and 1x miles on everything else.
Credit cards that just missed the cut
There are many other no-annual-fee credit cards that don't appear on this list. Here's an overview of the cards we considered that didn't make the final cut.
- Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card — This card earns 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% back on all other purchases. Those are some solid bonus categories, but the Wells Fargo Propel beat it out for a place on our list.
- Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card — You'll earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, which is better than the standard rate of 1 point/mile per dollar on credit cards, but not by much.
- Citi Rewards+℠ Card — This card is unique in that it rounds up to the nearest 10 points on all your purchases. It also earns 2x points at supermarkets and gas stations (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 point per dollar). Cards like the Wells Fargo Propel and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express have the potential to earn you more rewards, but if you already have a Citi credit card and want to boost your Citi points balance, this card is worth a look.
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card — With this card, you'll earn 1.5 points per dollar on every purchase. That's not a bad return on spending, but this card — and other Bank of America cards — are most rewarding if you're already a Bank of America customer and have enough money in qualifying counts to qualify for the Preferred Rewards program, which gets you bonus credit card rewards.
Frequently asked questions
Why trust our recommendations?
At Personal Finance Insider, our goal is to help readers make the best decisions with their money. To that end, we spend hours comparing and contrasting the features and benefits of top credit cards so you don't have to.
We understand that "best" can be subjective, so we also include information on where each credit card excels, and where it may fall short.
How did we choose the best no-annual-fee credit cards?
We reviewed dozens of no-annual fee credit cards across all categories — cash-back, travel, airline, hotel, and more — and narrowed our focused to cards that offer more than 1 point or mile per dollar on at least one category of purchase. We also looked at welcome bonuses, rewards caps (such as the $1,500 quarterly limit on the Chase Freedom and Discover it® Cash Back), and other fine print.
Is it ever worth paying an annual fee for a credit card?
Many of the top rewards credit cards have annual fees — ranging from $95 to $550 — and it can be worth paying for one if you'll use all of its benefits. In many cases, cards with annual fees have perks that are tied to travel, and if you rarely hit the road, these may not be the perfect fit. Always do an honest assessment of a card's perks and see how they match up with your lifestyle before applying for a credit card.
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