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Debunking Credit Card Myths: Is It Worth It to Pay an Annual Fee on a Credit Card?

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We spend a lot of time discussing travel rewards credit cards here at TPG. By pursuing top sign-up bonuses and strategically taking advantage of  bonus categories, you can unlock fantastic redemptions like premium-class flights and luxurious hotel rooms. However, there are a number of misconceptions out there when it comes to credit cards, so today I’ll continue our new series that debunks these myths and allows you to begin planning for your next vacation. Previous entries includes having too many cards, closing a card you don’t use, how permanent of an impact an application has on your score and not paying your balance in full. Today I’ll shift away from myths that involve your credit score and tackle a different (yet still important) topic.

Myth #5: Paying an annual fee on a credit card isn’t worth it.

Let me begin with a confession. I used to believe in this myth wholeheartedly. Before I became an avid reader of The Points Guy, I wouldn’t even consider paying an annual fee on a credit card. Many of my friends and family members have expressed this sentiment to me: “Why would I pay to have a credit card when there are so many options without annual fees?”

The latter portion of this statement is accurate. There are many different credit cards with no annual fee, including some very valuable ones:

I strongly believe that everyone should have at least one no annual fee card in their wallet. However, I also strongly believe that paying an annual fee can make a lot of sense for a few important reasons:

1. The valuable points you can earn

IMGPark-Hyatt-Maldives-Hadahaa-W064-Pool-1280x720
Annual fees can help you earn points or miles that can be redeemed for luxurious travel like free nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives.

One primary motivation for paying an annual fee is the type (or number) of points you can earn. Generally speaking, cards without an annual fee won’t provide the valuable earning potential of cards with an annual fee. There are really three aspects to this:

  • Sign-up bonus: Most cards with no annual fee have smaller sign-up bonuses than those with annual fees (like the $200 bonus on the Ink Cash Business Card compared to the 60,000-point bonus on the Ink Plus Business Card). Many also waive the annual fee for the first year, making the sign-up bonus “free.”
  • Earning rates: Many cards without an annual fee don’t award points at the same rate as others (like the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card awarding the same or fewer points per dollar spent than the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, depending on the category).
  • Types of points: In many cases, you are restricted from earning the most valuable currencies on cards with no annual fee.

For the third point, a card with an annual fee may even allow you to “convert” lower-level points to more valuable points. The most obvious example of this involves Ultimate Rewards. If you pay an annual fee on a premium card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can actually transfer the cash-back earned on cards like the Chase Freedom or Freedom Unlimited Card to much more valuable Ultimate Rewards points.

2. The annual credits or bonuses

Another key reason it makes sense to pay an annual fee on a credit card involves the annual bonuses that many of them provide. These can often cover most (if not all) of the card’s annual fee. Here are a few examples:

Even when these annual perks don’t cover the entire annual fee, there’s always the last reason…

3. The included benefits

Many premium travel rewards credit cards come with high annual fees but a slew of benefits.
Many premium travel rewards credit cards come with high annual fees but a slew of benefits.

Many top credit cards with an annual fee give you numerous benefits that can be incredibly valuable over a year. This could be a free checked bag benefit for frequent travelers from a hub airport (like the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard for those of you based in Chicago or Charlotte, saving you and up to four travel companions $50 on every round-trip domestic flight). It could also be a benefit that just provides peace of mind (like the primary rental car insurance on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card). This is also where premium credit cards like the Citi Prestige Card and Platinum Card from American Express shine thanks to valuable perks like Priority Pass lounge access. Depending on your situation, carrying one of these cards can easily outweigh the annual fee associated with the card.

Bottom Line

Paying an annual fee on a credit card may seem like a poor investment, but under the right circumstances, it can pay off many times over. By opening up valuable earning opportunities, annual perks and other benefits, these credit cards can give you plenty of rewards. Remember too that there are many ways to minimize the annual fees you have to pay, and as always, be sure to crunch the numbers and evaluate your own travel and spending scenario to see if paying an annual fee on a credit card makes sense.

What are your thoughts on paying annual fees for credit cards?

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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  • Named a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
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  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
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Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 0% Excellent Credit