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A good credit card without an annual fee is a solid choice for anyone’s wallet. Even though these no-annual-fee cards lack the fancy benefits that come with premium credit cards, they still offer great opportunities to earn rewards and some access to members-only benefits.
Likewise, for people who are just starting to build credit or need to rebuild credit, responsibly using a card with no annual fee can be a great way to improve your score without spending any extra money.
I’m a travel writer who has been writing about credit cards for the last six years and studying card benefits for many years longer, so I know this space well. While some of my favorite credit cards do have annual fees, there are a few that I always have in my wallet without fees.
If you are looking for a no-annual-fee credit card, these five choices could be the best for you.
The best no-annual-fee credit cards
Best overall: Chase Freedom
Best for everyday shopping: Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Best for imperfect credit: Discover It Secured
Best for membership benefits: PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express Card
Best for introductory APR: Citi Double Cash Card
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How we evaluated
Because I’ve been studying credit cards for years, I know what cards are best for a lot of people. To examine cards that don’t require paying an annual fee, I looked at major credit cards that offer flexible points or cash back rewards that can be easily redeemed. The best cards were chosen based on the value of rewards (both points and perks), fees, and general accessibility.
Things to know about credit cards
None of these cards have an annual fee. The downside is that these cards generally offer fewer perks than similar cards with annual fees from the same banks. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which has a $95 annual fee, offers more travel perks, like no foreign transaction fees, than the Chase Freedom, which has no annual fee. If you’re set on a card with no annual fee, the cards on this list are the best out there.
APR rates and credit limits vary based on your individual credit. Credit limits and interest rates for each card are determined based on each cardholder’s personal situation, so we did not take that information into account when evaluating these cards. One thing to remember is that if you pay your card off in full every month, you will not be charged interest.
Banks have final say on who they accept for a credit card. These recommendations were put together with the assumption that applicants would have average credit or above. That being said, banks decide who they will issue credit cards to using criteria including, but not always limited to, an individual’s credit score when evaluating each applicant.
Best overall: Chase Freedom
The Chase Freedom is a great card all on its own, and comes with a standout sign-up bonus: $150 back if you spend $500 on your card within the first three months. (Think of it as an instant 30% coupon.) The Chase Freedom can start racking up rewards for you now and offers plenty of opportunities to earn points and cash back due to its quarterly rotating categories.
Points: The Chase Freedom card earns at least 1% cash back (or 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards point you can redeem for travel or other offers) on all purchases. However, every quarter you can you can earn 5% back on up to $1,500 (or 5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) when you make purchases in certain rotating categories. In the past, these 5X categories have included gas stations, grocery stores, Amazon, department stores, and select streaming services.
Perks: The Chase Freedom offers an introductory 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months—though a balance transfer fee applies. After the introductory APR period, the interest rate will increase based on your creditworthiness. The Chase Freedom card is also one of the first cards in the U.S. to roll out with contactless payment, or tap to pay. So you don’t have to swipe or insert this card to pay.
Learn more about the Chase Freedom
Best for everyday shopping: Blue Cash Everyday from American Express
The Blue Cash Everyday offers a great welcome bonus as well as the opportunity to earn points on everyday purchases (hence, the name). If you want a solid, no-annual-fee card with an easy-to-manage rewards program, then this card is for you.
Points: The Blue Cash Everyday card offers a $150 bonus after you spend at least $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. On the first $6,000 you spend at U.S. supermarkets, you’ll earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (and then you’ll earn 1%). You’ll also earn 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores, and 1% back on all other purchases. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits.
Perks: The Blue Cash Everyday offers an introductory 0% APR on purchases within 15 months from account opening, though the APR will increase after the promotional period.
Learn more about the Blue Cash Everyday from American Express
Best for imperfect credit: Discover It Secured
If you’ve made some mistakes with credit cards in the past, you might be having a hard time getting approved for traditional credit cards. And many secured credit cards don’t offer a rewards program or other perks.
The Discover It Secured card is a great option if you need to rebuild your credit but still want to earn rewards. You’ll have to put a security deposit equal to your credit line down when you get approved for this card, but that deposit is fully refundable when you close the account in good standing or convert it to an unsecured card.
Points: As far as earning points goes, you’ll get 2% back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter with the Discover It Secured card. You’ll also earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Perks: The Discover It Secured card comes with two great perks to help you build your credit back up. First, you’ll get access to your FICO Credit Score for free on monthly statements, the mobile app, and online, so you can monitor any changes to your score. You’ll also have the ability to activate free Social Security number alerts, where Discover will alert you if your SSN is found on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.
Learn more about the Discover It Secured
Best for membership benefits: PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express
Most no-annual-fee credit cards don’t offer much when it comes to additional perks of having the card, but the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express card is a great exception to the rule. In order to get this card, you’ll have to be a member of PenFed Credit Union, which is free to employees and household members of many military, government, and defense organizations. But, anyone can join by becoming a member of a military support organization with a one-time $17 fee.
Points: The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express card offers 4 points per dollar spent on travel purchases for PedFed Honors Advantage members, or 3 points per dollar spent on travel for non-members. In order to be a PenFed Honors Advantage member you’ll have to open a free PenFed Access America Checking Account or have a military service background (active duty, reserve, honorably discharged, retired). All other purchases earn 1.5 points per dollar spent. Rewards can be redeemed for gift cards, travel, and merchandise.
Perks: The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards card really stands out when it comes to additional perks offered by the card. When you open your account, the APR for purchases and cash advances is based on your creditworthiness and varies with the prime rate, though it’s typically lower than many other no-annual-fee cards out there.
This card does offer a 12-month introductory 0% APR for balance transfers, which jumps after that first year. This card also offers a $100 annual air travel credit that can go toward covering baggage fees, lounge access, or onboard food and beverages. And you’ll get a $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck application fee credit when you pay for the application with your card. Also, this card also doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, so it’s a great option if you plan to travel abroad
Learn more about the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express Card
Best for introductory APR: Citi Double Cash Card
Who can argue about cold hard cash that can still be used for anything you want? This card is one of the simplest cash rewards credit cards out there that offers a great rate. And like all of the other cards on this list, it doesn’t have an annual fee.
Points: The Citi Double Cash card is simple and straightforward, while still being very rewarding. It offers 1% back on every purchase when you make your purchase and 1% back when you pay off your balance. Assuming you do both, the Citi Double Cash card ends up being a 2% cash back card. Your rewards can be redeemed as a statement credit and used for whatever your heart desires.
Perks: Most cards that don’t have annual fees lack much in the way of additional perks, and the Citi Double Cash doesn’t really stand out here. But, it does offer one of the best 0% APR periods for balance transfers available. You’ll get an introductory 0% APR period on balance transfers for 18 months, but you have to complete it within four months of opening the account, and pay a balance transfer fee. After the introductory period, the APR will increase based on your creditworthiness.
Learn more about the Citi Double Cash Card
Please note: The offers mentioned above are subject to change at any time and some may no longer be available.
Reviewed has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Reviewed and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
Other top credit card options
How many credit cards should you have in your wallet?
We hate to break it to you, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. The right number of credit cards for you depends on what you can responsibly manage.
Does having a piece of shiny plastic an arm’s length away often encourage you to spend money you don’t have? Be honest. Credit cards offer great benefits, but they also present an opportunity for overspending. You may want to think twice before applying for more credit. Carrying a balance you can’t afford contributes to interest charges, and in the long run costs you more money—money that you could’ve used for that air fryer you’ve been eyeing.
If you’re financially responsible and stick to making purchases that you can pay off, there may be some upsides to adding another card to your arsenal. If you’re a jet-setter without a card that rewards you for hitting the road, or one that skips foreign transaction fees, a travel credit card may make sense for you.
There are a few other things to consider before opening a new account, like adding a different payment processing network, or taking note of any annual fees.
Should you consider closing a credit card account?
We’re not big fans of clutter sitting around and taking up space, either, but there’s a few things to know before you pick up the phone to call your bank and chop up that credit card into bits and pieces. First, your credit score is based partly on the length of your credit history. Closing an older account will knock your score.
Saying goodbye to a card also means you’ll have less credit available. And that means your credit utilization ratio will likely go up. (If you need a refresher: That’s the balance you carry divided by your credit line—and finance pros recommend keeping this at 30% or less.) Your utilization ratio is also a major factor in calculating your score. You can, however, ask another issuer to increase your credit limit to help out a little.
Keep in mind, if you’re a responsible credit user, your scores will eventually rebound. But there are a few other factors to consider when deciding to close an account, such as whether you’re close to hitting a rewards milestone.
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This article originally appeared on Reviewed.com: The best no annual fee credit cards of 2020: Reviewed