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Top No Annual Fee Credit Cards

Top No Annual Fee Credit Cards
Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Updated September 24, 2021
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Editor’s note: At Lantern, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, we occasionally feature content that includes information about our partners and their products or services. We do not provide, endorse, or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendations—and our opinions are our own.
For people who want a credit card with valuable rewards and benefits but hate the idea of paying an annual fee, there are many good options to choose among. Deciding which no annual fee credit card is right for you depends on what perks or card features are most important to you. Whether you’re looking for a card specifically meant for students or one designed for small businesses—or even a card that offers cash back or travel rewards, a card without annual fee that will work for you is out there.

How We Chose the Top No Annual Fee Credit Cards

To find the top no annual fee credit cards, we first divided the market into the following seven categories: 
  • Top cash back cards with no annual fee
  • Top travel rewards cards with no annual fee
  • Competitive 0% APR financing cards without an annual fee
  • Small business no annual fee cards
  • Top no annual fee cards for fair credit
  • Secured cards with no annual fee
  • No annual fee cards for students
Then we looked at more than a dozen major card issuers and credit unions to find the top cards in each of these subcategories. We included only cards that are offered to all applicants, leaving out products provided by credit unions that not everyone can join.For each category, we looked at the most salient factors in that category. For example, the top 0% financing card needs to have a long promotional financing period with good terms, while the top travel credit card needs to offer the most valuable travel rewards without an annual fee. While credit card terms may change from time to time, the following rankings reflect information that was accurate in August 2021.

Top Cash Back Cards Without an Annual Fee

There are many people who don’t want to pay an annual fee for a credit card but still want a card that gives them great rates of cash back. To find top cash back reward credit cards, we looked at no annual fee options that offer a straightforward earning structure. We also gave extra consideration to cards that have large welcome bonuses and valuable cardholder benefits. 

If You Want a Top Cash Back Card with No Annual Fee: Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card

The Wells Fargo Active Cash card is a no annual fee card that offers a good cash back rate on all purchases, a strong new account bonus, and some valuable benefits. With this card, new applicants can earn a $200 cash rewards bonus when they spend $1,000 on new purchases within the first three months after opening the account. This card earns a straightforward 2% cash back on all purchases with no rewards category limitations or quarterly activations required. Cardholders also get a 0% introductory APR for 15 months from account opening on both new purchases and qualifying balance transfers made within 120 days of account opening. After the introductory period, the variable APR will be between 14.00% and 24.99%, depending on credit worthiness. As an added bonus, the card comes with up to $600 of cell phone protection against damage or theft when you pay your  monthly cell phone bill with your Wells Fargo Active Cash card. This can be a very valuable benefit since you may be able to avoid paying for expensive mobile phone theft and damage coverage from your carrier. 

Top Travel Rewards Cards with No Annual Fee

Despite the growing popularity of premium cards with large annual fees, consumers who love to travel but don’t love the idea of paying an annual fee can still choose from some solid options. In selecting the top no fee travel rewards cards, we looked at those that still provide great value as travel rewards. We also looked at cardholder benefits such as travel insurance and purchase protection policies. And you definitely don’t want to travel outside the country with a card that imposes unnecessary foreign transaction fees, so that was a dealbreaker. 

If You Want a Top Travel Rewards Card with No Annual Fee: Capital One VentureOne Rewards

The VentureOne Rewards from Capital One offers very flexible travel rewards without imposing an annual fee. The card earns an unlimited 1.25 Capital One Miles per dollar on every purchase, with no limits. New cardholders can also earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending $500 on new purchases made within three months of account opening. Capital One Miles can be redeemed for one cent each as statement credits toward travel purchases, such as flights, hotels, or rental cas. You also have the option to transfer your rewards to any of the 15 airline and hotel loyalty programs.Since this is a travel rewards card, it comes with additional benefits that can be useful for frequent travelers. These include travel accident insurance and auto rental coverage for damage due to collision or theft. Use this card for any big purchases to enjoy the extended warranty protection on eligible items. This card offers 0% introductory APR for 12 months, with a variable APR between 15.49 % and 25.49% afterwards. And like all Capital One cards, the VentureOne has no foreign transaction fees added to purchases made outside the U.S. 

Competitive 0% APR Financing Cards Without an Annual Fee

If you are looking for 0% APR financing, you probably don’t want to pay an annual fee on your credit card. To find the most competitive 0% APR financing cards without an annual fee, we knew that the longest duration for interest free financing on both new purchases and balance transfer offers would be, by far, the most important factor.  That said, the vast majority of credit cards with 0% APR promotional financing offers have no annual fee anyway. 

If You Want a Competitive 0% APR Financing Card Without an Annual Fee: US Bank Platinum

The U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card offers the longest 0% promotional financing offer of any card, with or without an annual fee. By law, interest-free promotional financing offers must last for at least six months, but this card offers 20 months of 0% APR financing on both new purchases and balance transfers. Twenty months of 0% APR promotional financing could help buy you time to pay down existing balances while also avoiding accruing additional interest. Just note that the 20 months of 0% APR on balance transfers only applies to balances transferred within 30 days from account opening. There’s also a 3% balance transfer fee, with a $5 minimum balance transfer. After the introductory APR offer is over, a variable rate between 14.49% and 24.49% will apply, depending on creditworthiness. This card also includes up to $600 of cell phone protection against damage or theft when you pay your monthly cell phone bill with your card. Otherwise, this is a very simple card that doesn’t offer a new account bonus or rewards for spending. 

Small Business No Annual Fee Cards

People looking for a consumer credit card are not the only ones who are interested in credit cards without an annual fee. Many of those looking for a small business card also hate the idea of annual fees. No annual fee cards are often best suited to small business owners with relatively modest spending requirements, as they don’t really have the volume to justify paying the annual fee that may be necessary to earn more rewards and to obtain more valuable benefits. And if the business card won’t be used for travel, many of these benefits won’t be utilized anyway. To find the top small business cards with no annual fees, we looked at factors that would likely be valuable to those who might want these cards, such as rewards earning structure, new account bonuses, and 0% APR financing offers. 

If You Want a Small Business Card with No Annual Fee: Chase Ink Business Unlimited

The Chase Ink Business Unlimited is a great card for small businesses that want a simple but effective way to earn cash back rewards for spending without paying an annual fee. This card earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. Plus, small businesses can earn a  $750 cash bonus after spending $7,500 on purchases within the first three months of  opening the account. Rewards can be redeemed for cash back or travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. And if you also happen to have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card, then you can combine your rewards with that account and transfer your points to airline and hotel rewards. This card includes benefits such as auto rental collision damage waiver coverage, purchase protection, and an extended warranty policy. The card also offers 0% introductory APR for 12 months from account opening. After that, a variable APR of 13.24% to 19.24% will apply.

Top No Annual Fee Cards for Fair Credit

If you have fair credit, then it can be difficult to get approval for many of the top credit cards. However, holding a credit card and managing it responsibly may help you increase your credit score. That’s why finding a no annual fee credit card specifically for applicants with fair credit is so important. To find the top card for fair credit, with no annual fee, we looked for simple products that had few other fees as well. We also looked for a card that offers some reasonable benefits, knowing that even the top cards in this category will not have all of the features you’d find in a card for those with excellent credit. 

If You Want a Top No Annual Fee Card for Fair Credit: Capital One Platinum Mastercard

The Capital One Platinum Mastercard is specifically marketed to applicants with fair credit. If you have defaulted on a loan in the past five years, have limited credit history, or have had a credit card for less than three years, then you may have fair credit. Once approved, cardholders may be automatically considered for a higher credit line in as little as six months from account opening. A higher credit line can also help to improve your credit score. Note that this card has a 24.99% variable APR, which is higher than average, but that’s expected in a card for those with fair credit. Likewise, this card doesn’t offer a new account bonus or rewards for spending. Finally, there are no foreign transaction fees with this no annual fee card.

Secured Cards Without Annual Fees

For the many Americans with poor credit, a secured card can help rebuild credit. Secured credit cards work almost exactly like standard, unsecured cards. The only difference is that you’re required to make a refundable security deposit before you open an account. After that, you can use your card just like any other, and you’re required to make monthly payments as well. After making their payments on-time for a year, secured card users may find that their credit has improved enough to qualify them for an unsecured card, allowing them to close their account and get their security deposit back. To find the top secured card without an annual fee, we looked at terms for the deposit and opportunities for an increased credit limit.

If You Want a Secured Card Without an Annual Fee: Capital One Secured Mastercard

With most secured cards, the amount of your deposit always becomes your credit limit. But with the Capital One Secured Mastercard, you may have the opportunity to enjoy a $200 credit limit with a refundable deposit of only $49 or $99. Note that cardholders may have to make the full $200 deposit depending on their creditworthiness and can deposit more before account opening to receive a higher credit line. Also, cardholders will automatically be considered for a higher credit limit after six months.

No Annual Fee Cards for Students

Students may have a limited credit history and different spending habits than other adult consumers, so they can have different needs in a credit card. Also, most students don’t have a lot of money to spare, so they probably won’t want to spend unnecessarily on an annual fee. To find the top no annual fee credit cards for students, we looked at factors like simplicity of use and any rewards earned from spending, especially in categories in which students tend to spend the most. 

If You Want a Student Card with No Annual Fee: Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students

The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards for Students is a top card for students who want to earn some cash back without paying an annual fee. The card earns 3% cash back in a category of your choice, including gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores, or home improvement/furnishing. Categories can be chosen online at a maximum of once a month. Plus, cardholders earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter. For all other purchases, this card offers 1% cash back. 

The Takeaway

While premium credit cards with pricy annual fees often get most of the attention, there’s still a strong market for cards without an annual fee that nonetheless deliver exceptional value. By choosing one of these top no-fee cards that best meets your needs, you can enjoy the rewards and benefits you need without having to pay to use your credit card. Even if your credit history is poor or just not substantial, you may well qualify for a credit card, even one with no annual fee. Lantern by SoFi may be able to help with the multiple credit card options offered by our network of partners.
Photo credit: iStock/MixMedia
The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.SOLC0821160

About the Author

Jason Steele

Jason Steele

Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards and award travel since 2008. One of the nation's leading experts in this field, he has contributed to dozens of personal finance and travel outlets and has been widely quoted in the mainstream media.
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