If you’re wondering whether you should pay an annual fee just for the privilege of having a credit card in your wallet, the answer is no. Although there are a lot of credit cards that charge annual fees—some worth it and some not—there are also many that don’t.
Some credit cards charge annual fees to offset the cost of their generous rewards programs. Others charge annual fees because they’re available to people with lower credit scores or limited credit histories.
However, there are credit cards without annual fees that offer rewards or are available to bad-credit and no-credit borrowers. Explore the best no-annual-fee cards to see if one of them is right for you.
Table of Contents
- Best Overall No-Annual-Fee Credit Card
- Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for Fair Credit
- Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for Bad Credit
- Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for No Credit
- Best No-Annual-Fee Rewards Credit Card
- Best Low-Interest Credit Card With No Annual Fee
- Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for Travel
- Best Business Credit Card with No Annual Fee
- What “no annual fee” means for credit cards
- Who should get a no-annual-fee credit card
- How to choose a no-annual-fee credit card
- FAQs About Credit Card Annual Fees
Best Overall No-Annual-Fee Credit Card
Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for Fair Credit
Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for Bad Credit
Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for No Credit
Best No-Annual-Fee Rewards Credit Card
Best Low-Interest Credit Card With No Annual Fee
Best No-Annual-Fee Credit Card for Travel
Best Business Credit Card with No Annual Fee
What “no annual fee” means for credit cards
An annual fee is a charge that many credit card issuers levy each year to let you continue using a credit card. It’s typically payable when you first get your card and then again every 12 months after that (although some issuers will waive the fee in the first year).
However, many credit cards charge no annual fees. Sometimes these no-annual-fee cards have comparatively few extra benefits or rewards—but not always.
Beware that no annual fee doesn’t mean no fees whatsoever. You might still end up paying:
- Late payment fees
- Returned payment fees (if your credit card payment bounces)
- Foreign transaction fees
- Balance transfer fees
- Cash advance fees (if you use your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM)
- Over-limit fees (a penalty you pay for going over your credit limit)
- Account-opening fees
Who should get a no-annual-fee credit card
You should get a no annual fee card if you don’t use credit often, in large amounts, or don’t care to game credit card points. Credit cards with annual fees are only worth it if you use enough credit to earn more rewards than the annual fee amount.
No-annual-fee credit cards are particularly good if:
- You’re using your credit card mainly to build credit rather than to get rewards or benefits
- You’re a student (or anyone else) on a budget
- You use your credit card fairly infrequently
- You want a low-maintenance credit card
- You’re using your card mainly for a balance transfer
Hidden benefits of no-fee cards
Credit cards with no annual fee also have a side benefit that not everyone is aware of: if you stop using your card (e.g., because you got a better one), you can keep your first card open without wasting money. Keeping cards open is generally better for your credit than closing them, so this will help you maintain a good credit score.
How to choose a no-annual-fee credit card
Here are some things to bear in mind when you’re choosing a no-annual-fee credit card:
- Do you need the card for a balance transfer? If you’re opening a credit card for a balance transfer, check that the credit card you’re considering offers this capability (not all cards do). To select a credit card for balance transfers, you’ll want to prioritize avoiding annual fees and finding 0% APR offers, rather than cashback rewards or other benefits.
- Do you need the card for something else? As well as balance transfer credit cards, there are credit cards designed for various other purposes—such as the financing of large purchases (e.g., cards that give you 0% APR on purchases for 6+ months), credit building (e.g., secured credit cards), earning rewards, or even simply getting discounts (e.g., some store cards). Check that the credit cards you’re considering fit your needs, bearing in mind that some cards don’t include certain features like cash advances, cashback rewards, or reporting to credit bureaus.
- Are there any other fees? As mentioned, no-annual-fee credit cards often still have other fees (e.g., foreign transaction fees or late fees). Don’t forget to take these other fees into account.
- What is the APR? Before you get a no-annual-fee credit card, check the various APRs that apply. There will probably be different APRs for different purposes (e.g., purchase APRs, balance transfer APRs, or promotional APRs). You’ll want to know how much interest you’ll rack up if you end up carrying a balance at the end of the month.
- What are your spending habits? If you’re planning to use your credit card to earn points, get a rough idea of how much you spend per month on various types of purchases (e.g., groceries, gas, or dining out). Some credit cards have different rewards rates for different categories; if you have an idea of the categories where you spend the most, you’ll be able to work out where you might have chances to earn cashback rewards.
- What benefits are on offer? Credit cards often come with extra benefits and perks like cellphone insurance, travel insurance, exclusive discounts, free FICO scores, and more. Decide how valuable these are to you, compare the offerings from various different card issuers, and then factor any benefits into your decision about which credit card to get.
- Are there any welcome offers? Not all no-fee credit cards have welcome offers, but some do, and they can be very lucrative in the short term. For example, some credit cards offer bonus cashback rewards worth hundreds of dollars in the first few months. These kinds of offers aren’t the most important consideration when you’re getting a credit card, but they could be a tiebreaker if you’re torn between multiple similar cards.
FAQs About Credit Card Annual Fees
Are credit cards with annual fees worth it?
Yes, credit cards with annual fees can be worth it.
It may be worth paying an annual fee if, for example, your card gives you a lot of perks and benefits that outweigh the annual fee.
Can I get my credit card’s annual fees waived?
Sometimes a credit card will waive your annual fee automatically for the first year of borrowing.
Other times, you’ll have to call your card issuer and make a special request for them to waive your fees. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask your card issuer about this—and it may occasionally work in special circumstances—but they won’t necessarily agree.
Any fee waivers will be at the credit card issuer’s discretion and decided on a case-by-case basis, so even if you know someone else that managed to get their annual fee waived, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to.
Can I get a no-annual-fee credit card if I have bad credit or no credit?
Yes, even borrowers with bad credit or no credit can find a credit card with no annual fee.
Of course, there may be other caveats or restrictions for bad credit holders or people with no credit scores.
For example, you may need to provide a security deposit, the APR may be high, or there may be limitations on how you can use your credit card (e.g., store cards are often available to people with fair credit but work only at specific businesses).
How can I apply for a credit card with no annual fee?
Once you’ve found a no-annual-fee credit card that you like, visit the card issuer’s website to find out ways to apply. Frequently, the easiest option is to apply online, although you may also be able to do it in person (e.g., at a bank) or over the phone.
If you already have an account with a card issuer (e.g., because you have one of their other credit cards), you may be able to apply for new credit cards through their app.
When you apply for a new credit card, you’ll usually need to provide personal details like your name, date of birth, Social Security or ITIN number, residential address, monthly income, information about your employment, and other relevant information.
The card issuer will then review your information and usually (although not always) run a credit check on you before giving you a response. The process can take as little as a few seconds or as long as a couple of weeks.