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Best no-annual-fee credit cards for January 2022


Paying an annual fee for a credit card sometimes makes sense if you spend enough to maximize rewards and offset the cost of the card. But it’s important to pay attention to the exact fees to find the credit card that best suits you. If you want to save money on annual fees in the new year and still score rewards and other benefits, there are a variety of no-annual-fee cards available.

First, you’ll want to compare your options — some of these cards offer only basic features, while others allow you to earn welcome bonuses, cash-back rewards and travel points, as well as get perks like zero foreign transaction fees. Below are our picks for the best no-annual-fee credit cards. We’ll update this list periodically as new cards are introduced and features and benefits change.

Intro Bonus$200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

APR14.99% – 24.74% Variable

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services and on drugstore purchases.
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months

Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

Balance Transfer APR14.99% – 24.74% Variable

Foreign Transaction Fees 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

Penalty APR Up to 29.99%

  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services and on drugstore purchases.
  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Our Take

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® card wins the spot for best no-annual-fee credit cards for a few reasons. This card offers an extensive cash-back rewards program, allowing you to earn more rewards on grocery stores, eligible travel, dining and drugstore purchases than you could with the other best no-annual-fee cards. 

If we were to feature a pick for the best grocery store credit card with no annual fee in this list, the Chase Freedom Unlimited would also walk away with that title. This card also offers a $200 welcome bonus when you spend $500 in the first three months of account ownership and a 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases (14.99% to 24.74% variable APR thereafter). 

Intro Bonus25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening – that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

APR13.99% – 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don’t expire

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases

Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.

Balance Transfer APR13.99% – 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Late Payment Fee Up to $40

Foreign Transaction Fees None

Penalty APR up to 29.99% APR

  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don’t expire

Our Take

With the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card*, you earn 1.5 points (equivalent to 1.5 cents) for every dollar spent on any purchase, anywhere. These points can be redeemed for statement credits against travel expenses like hotels, flights and restaurants, with no restrictions on airlines, websites or dates. You’ll also enjoy no foreign transaction fees, so anywhere you travel to, you can use this credit card without penalty. The sign-on bonus and introductory APR make this a well-rounded everyday credit card, as well.

Intro Bonus$200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening

APR13.99% – 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Recommended Credit Excellent/Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
  • Earn automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
  • Earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases.

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% Intro APR for 15 billing cycles for any BTs made in the first 60 days. A 3% fee (min. $10) applies.

Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.

Balance Transfer APR13.99% – 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Late Payment Fee Up to $40

Foreign Transaction Fees 3%

Penalty APR up to 29.99% APR

  • Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
  • Earn automatic 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases)
  • Earn unlimited 1% on all other purchases.

Our Take

The Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card* offers a lot of flexibility. Unlike most credit cards where you can choose a category, this one doesn’t rotate — making it a valuable tool you can use all year long. You can earn 3% cash back on the category of your choice, on up to $2,500 of expenditure per quarter in combined 3% and 2% categories, then 1% thereafter. The default category selection is gas, and for all others you must manually switch the selection through your account. Alternatively, this card would also be selected as the best no-annual-fee credit card for online shopping, as that is another category you can manually choose.

Intro BonusEarn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months

APR14.99%-24.99% Variable APR

Recommended Credit Excellent, Good

Reward Rates

  • Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

Annual Fee$0

Intro Purchase APR0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening

Intro Balance Transfer APR0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on qualifying balance transfers

Balance Transfer Fee up to 5%; min: $5

Balance Transfer APR14.99%-24.99% Variable APR

Foreign Transaction Fees 3%

Penalty APR None

  • Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

Our Take

The Wells Fargo Active Cash Card offers an unlimited 2% flat cash rewards structure, making this a simple but powerful card. There’s no worrying about reward limits or bonus categories — you’ll earn a flat rewards rate on eligible everyday purchases. Plus, if you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months of opening your account, you’ll earn a $200 cash rewards welcome bonus. You can also take advantage of the low introductory APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers, as this is a well-rounded card.

FAQs

What does ‘no annual fee’ mean?

It means the card issuer will not charge you a yearly cardholder fee. Cards with no annual fees may have other fees though — such as security deposits, transaction fees, late payment fees and balance transfer fees. Many different types of cards offer no annual fee, such as most student credit cards.

Read more: How to build credit, fast

What else should I consider about credit cards with no annual fees?

If you use your card more and want access to better incentives, it is easy to make the switch. Alex Miller, CEO and founder of Upgraded Points, said, “No-annual-fee credit cards tend to have a ‘sister’ card with an annual fee. You can upgrade from a no-annual-fee to an annual fee card, usually with little to no hassle.” With these upgraded cards, you can typically earn even more rewards.

Read more: How to cancel a credit card without destroying your credit score

Are annual-fee cards ever worth it?

Sometimes. If you’re new to using credit cards or do not plan to charge many expenses, then having a card with an annual fee will not be in your best interest since you won’t take advantage of the incentives enough to justify the cost. 

Meanwhile, there are instances where the opposite applies. “Annual-fee cards are worth it for people who spend more money because they have much higher bonuses on spending categories,” said John Taylor Garner, CEO and founder of Card Curator. “And their points/miles are worth a lot more, especially when redeemed for travel.”

Our methodology

CNET reviews credit cards by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each major category, including cash-back, welcome bonus, travel rewards and balance transfer. We take into consideration the typical spending behavior of a range of consumer profiles — with the understanding that everyone’s financial situation is different — and the designated function of a card. 

For cash-back credit cards, for example, key factors include the annual fee, the “welcome bonus” and the cash-back rate (or rates, if they differ by spending category). For rewards and miles cards, we calculate and weigh the net monetary value of a card’s respective perks. And with balance transfer credit cards, we analyze specs such as the duration of the introductory 0% APR period and the balance transfer fee, while acknowledging secondary factors such as the standard APR and the length of time you have to make a balance transfer after you open the account.

*All information about the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card and the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.



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