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There’s no better way to maximize rewards earnings while minimizing costs than to use a credit card with no annual fee. While you can sometimes get an annual fee waived or receive a retention offer that may offset it, there’s no surefire way to keep out-of-pocket costs to $0 other than using a no-fee card and paying your balance in full each month. Today, I’ll cover the best no annual fee cards to use in 2018.
The Points Guy’s Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards
|Card||Best For||0% Intro APR Period|
|Ink Business Cash Credit Card||Small business purchases||12 months; (after that 14.74% to 20.74% variable APR)|
|Chase Freedom®||Rotating Bonus Categories||15 months; (after that 16.49% to 25.24% variable APR|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card||Everyday spending||15 months; (after that 16.49% to 25.24% variable APR)|
|Discover it® Card||Quarterly Bonus Cash Back||14 months; (after that 13.49% to 24.49% variable APR)|
Visa Signature® Card
|Visa Signature Benefits||–|
|PenFed Pathfinder Rewards
American Express® Card
|Travel||12 months (only for Balance Transfers); (after that 11.99% to 17.99% variable APR)|
|Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
from American Express
|U.S. Supermarkets||15 months; (after that 14.49% to 25.49% variable APR)|
|Capital One® VentureOne®
Cash Rewards Card
|Hotels||12 months; (after that 13.49% to 23.49% variable APR)|
|Uber Visa Card||Restaurants and Bars||–|
The Ink Business Cash card is an impressive no-fee pick, especially since it’s now offering an elevated bonus of $500 when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You’ll earn 5% back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each account year at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services, and 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent at gas stations and restaurants (and 1% back on everything else).
Beyond its very generous bonus, this card stands out because you’re not limited to just earning rewards as cash back. If you also have an Ultimate Rewards-earning card, you can transfer your cash-back rewards and then redeem them as points, which means the 5% back category is equivalent to a 5x category.
The Freedom card has rotating quarterly bonus categories that reward you with 5% cash back/5 points per dollar on up to $1,500 in eligible spending. For example, in the first quarter of 2018 you can earn these bonus rewards on spending at gas stations, on internet, cable, and phone bills, and utilizing mobile payment platforms Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay and Chase Pay. Given how valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points are — and considering that the card comes with a $150 (15,000-point) sign-up bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months — this card packs a real punch.
Points are worth 1 cent each toward travel booked though the Ultimate Rewards travel portal or toward gift cards. If you also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, you can combine your points and use them with Ultimate Rewards transfer partners or redeem them for 1.25 cents each toward free travel booked through the Chase portal. Even better, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can combine your points and use them for 1.5 cents apiece toward travel booked through the Chase portal. Note that this card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee.
This card earns 1.5% cash back on all spending, every day. While this may not excite you at face value, if you also hold a premium Ultimate Rewards-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred, you can redeem the cash back as points to get 1.5x Ultimate Rewards on all purchase. Since some of your spending probably doesn’t fall within a bonus category, the cumulative effect of increasing rewards by 50% on all your non-bonus expenditures is huge.
Even better, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which gets you 1.5 cents per point toward travel through the Chase portal, you can combine your Freedom Unlimited card points with your Sapphire Reserve points, meaning you’ll earn a 2.25% return on all spending with the no-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited Card. Like the Freedom card, this card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee.
Like the Chase Freedom, the Discover it Card has rotating quarterly categories that offer 5% cash back on the first $1,500 in eligible spending and 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases. The kicker: Discover’s currently matching all cash back you earn during the first year after account opening. That means you’ll get 10% cash back on quarterly bonus categories and an unlimited 2% cash back on all other spending — for a year! Plus, this card is really the king of no fees; not only does it waive an annual fee, but it also has no over-limit fee, no foreign transaction fees and no late fee on the first late payment.
This card earns you an unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases with no rewards cap and no annual fee. You can deposit your rewards into one of six eligible Fidelity account types, and can even choose multiple accounts to direct your rewards into:
- Brokerage account
- Fidelity Cash Management Account
- Fidelity-managed 529 College Savings plan
- Retirement account
- Fidelity Go account
- Fidelity Charitable® Giving Account®
You can even deposit your rewards into a family member’s account. You’ll also enjoy all the additional benefits of a Visa Signature card, like 24/7 concierge and Signature shopping and travel discounts. The card is offered by Elan Financial Services, so it’s a good option if you feel the need to diversify which card issuers you’re opening new accounts with. It does charge a foreign transaction fee, though at 1% it’s lower than some of the other card’s fees on this list (though you’ll still want to avoid using it abroad).
New in 2018, PenFed has introduced an incredible no-fee credit card that looks and acts like a premium rewards card. The Pathfinder Rewards card has a 25,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $2,500 on the card in the first three months of account opening. It earns 3x points on all travel purchases (PenFed Honors Advantage members earn 4x on travel purchases) and the card earns 1.5x points on all other purchases every day. Every point with PenFed is basically worth 1 cent each. The sign-up bonus and earnings rates alone for a no annual fee card would be plenty to make this a great option, but the card offers even more.
Every five years you receive a $100 credit for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck registration fee and you receive a $100 annual airline fee credit. Use the credit for incidentals like lounge access, checked baggage or onboard purchases on any US-headquartered airline (can be used across multiple airlines for a total of $100). You must be a member of PenFed to get the card, and almost anyone can qualify. No military service required. This is a really impressive product to have no annual fee.
This card is the only no annual fee card I know of that gives you the ability to transfer points to travel partners. It gives you the opportunity to earn up to 1.2 American Express Membership Rewards points per dollar — if you use your card for at least 20 transactions in a month, you’ll be rewarded with a 20% point bonus. You also earn 2x points on the first $6,000 you spend at US supermarkets each year (then 1x).
The card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 10,000 Membership Rewards after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening. This card also charges a 2.7% foreign transaction fee. Be careful you don’t confuse this no-fee card with the Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express, which can earn you up to 1.5 Membership Rewards on all purchases and 3x points at US supermarkets (on the first $6,000 spent per year), but carries a $95 annual fee.
The Capital One Venture Rewards cards have made headlines in 2018. In February it was announced that the Venture One Rewards and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card will earn 10x Venture Miles on Hotels.com purchases. The Venture One card has no annual fee and is offering a 20,000-mile sign up bonus after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening. That’s worth $200 in travel.
Besides 10x earnings on Hotels.com, the card earns 1.25 miles per dollar spent every day with no cap, giving you a 25% boost on all purchases. With the ability to earn more than 1% back toward travel and save 20% on almost any hotel by combining 10x points earned with the Hotels.com Rewards program, the Capital One Venture One is a definite top no annual fee card to consider.
The no annual fee Uber Visa card offers great bonus spend categories with the points earned able to be redeemed toward Uber credit, gift cards, or cash back. Earn 4% back on restaurants, takeout and bars, including UberEats; 3% back on airfare, hotel and vacation home rentals; 2% back on online purchases including Uber, online shopping, video and music streaming services (certain online purchases are excluded, including third-party payment services); and 1% back on all other purchases.
The card also has no foreign transaction fees, cell phone insurance up to $600, and offers a $50 credit for an online music, video, or shopping subscription service when you spend $5,000 on the card in a calendar year. That is a lot of rewards potential and ancillary benefits from a no annual fee card. My only request: Give us 4% back on Uber rides instead of 2%.
Hilton Honors Card from American Express — It’s not often you find a no-fee card that offers a decent bonus and the ability to earn substantial points on bonus spend categories. New cardholders can earn 50,000 Hilton points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of account opening. Bonus categories include 7x points on all spend within the Hilton portfolio; 5x points on US restaurant, US supermarket and US gas station purchases; and 3x points on everything else. You’ll earn a 500-point bonus every time you book online and pay for your Hilton stay with the card, and you can earn Hilton Honors Gold status with $20,000 in annual spending on the card. This card has no foreign transaction fee.
Wells Fargo Visa Signature Card — This card is a lot of fun — at least for the first six months after you open an account, since you’ll get 5x points on gas station, grocery store and drugstore purchases. The card has a sign-up bonus a few times a year, so be on the lookout for when it is offered. Points are worth 1 cent each for cash back, but if you redeem for airfare through the Wells Fargo Rewards travel portal, they’re worth 1.5 cents each, meaning you earn 7.5x points toward airfare on all gas, grocery and drugstore purchases for six months on the first $12,500 in spend. Note that this card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee.
Recap: Our picks for the best no annual fee credit cards of 2018:
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Chase Freedom®
- Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card
- Discover it® Card
- Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card
- PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
- Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
- Capital One® VentureOne® Cash Rewards Card
- Uber Visa Card
As you can see, you don’t need to pay an annual fee to earn valuable rewards with a credit card. Whether they earn you cash back or points that can be redeemed toward travel, the options listed above represent great opportunities to rack up rewards. There are cases when a credit card’s benefits can justify paying an annual fee, but it’s good to know that there are several solid no-fee options as well.
Featured photo by Matt Dutile/Getty Images
It's a stellar cash back card on its own, but when paired with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Freedom's 5x Category Bonuses let you rack up Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, transferrable to partners or redeemable via the portal.
- Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
- Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
- Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter
- Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49-25.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
- Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
- Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
- No annual fee