/The best no-annual-fee credit cards of May 2021

The best no-annual-fee credit cards of May 2021


This page includes information about the Discover it® Cash Back product, which is currently not available on Business Insider and may be out of date.

Many people feel that paying an annual fee for a credit card makes no sense. Why should you pay to spend money?

That’s not to say that cards with annual fees are never worth it — for example, it’s possible to get over $2,000 in value in your first year with The Platinum Card® from American Express
, especially if you travel frequently and take advantage of its benefits.

But if you stay close to home, or don’t fancy perks like annual statement credits, you can do quite well with a card that doesn’t charge an annual fee. Plenty of cards without an annual fee offer strong rewards, too, so you’re not missing out on points and miles.

The best no-annual-fee credit cards in 2021

Regular APR

13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)

2% cash back on all purchases

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.

Balance Transfer Fee

Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.


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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • No annual fee
    • Simple earning structure without confusing bonus categories
    Cons
    • Some cards earn higher rates of cash back on rotating categories
    • No sign-up bonus
    • If you don’t have any account activity for 12 months, unredeemed rewards can expire
    • While it offers a 0% introductory APR for 18 months, that’s only on balance transfers, not purchases, so you can’t use it to fund a major expense without interest. After those 18 months, it’s a 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable) APR.
    • Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
    • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
    • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
    • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
    • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
    • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
    • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi’s discretion.


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    The Citi® Double Cash Card effectively earns 2% cash back — 1% when you make a purchase, and 1% when you pay it off. If you’re focused on earning credit card rewards, you should be paying your balance off in full each month, so in that case you can consider this a 2% cash back card.

    There’s one downside, though: The card doesn’t currently offer a welcome bonus. That said, it’s one of the best cash-back cards, and it’s simple to use because there are no bonus rewards categories to remember.

    The Citi® Double Cash Card is also an excellent starter card if you’re new to credit card rewards. You can’t go wrong with redeeming Double Cash rewards for cash back, but if you later want to delve into travel points and miles, you can convert rewards from the Citi Double Cash into more flexible Citi ThankYou points.

    Regular APR

    14.99%–23.74% variable APR

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    $200 after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening


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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Solid flat cash-back rate
    • You can combine cash-back rewards with Ultimate Rewards points if you have an eligible card
    • No annual fee
    Cons
    • Some other cards offer a higher rate of cash back on certain types of purchases
    • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
    • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
    • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases.
    • No annual fee
    • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 – 23.74%.
    • No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open


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    The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is another top pick for a no-annual-fee card — especially if there’s a chance that you’ll want to earn more valuable credit card rewards with a premium credit card later on.

    That’s because while Chase markets the card as “cash back,” it actually earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem for cash, gift cards, or travel through the Chase Travel Portal at a rate of 1 cent per point. 

    If you decide that you want to maximize the value of those points by purchasing travel with a bonus through Chase, or transfer them to frequent flyer partners, you can open a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and pool your points from the two cards.

    The Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase, 3% cash back on dining and at drugstores, and 1.5% back on all other purchases (or 1.5 points per dollar spent). Paired with a Sapphire Reserve, it’s a great card to use for purchases that aren’t made on travel expenses or dining.

    The Freedom Unlimited is a fantastic all-around card. However, to get the most value when it’s time to spend your points, you need the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred card, too, so you can pool your points. Otherwise, points are only worth 1 cent each no matter how you use them, and they can’t be transferred to airline or hotel partners.

    Regular APR

    14.99% – 23.74%

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

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

    Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 billing cycles


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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • No annual fee
    • Generous bonus cash-back categories
    • Great welcome bonus
    Cons
    • Booking through Ultimate Rewards portal can restrict outside earning potential
    • Varying percentages and rotating calendar categories require extra attention
    • 3% foreign transaction fees
    • Earn a $200 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!
    • Earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.
    • No annual fee.
    • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 – 23.74%.
    • No minimum to redeem for cash back. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open.


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    The Chase Freedom Flex℠ works virtually the same way as the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, earning cash back in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points that you can either combine with another card, or redeem for cash or merchandise. 

    The key difference is how it earns those rewards. Unlike the Chase Freedom Unlimited®— which earns 1.5% cash back (or 1.5 points per dollar spent) on most purchases, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ earns 5% (or 5x) in rotating categories each quarter (once activated) on up to $1,500 spent in that category. You’ll also earn 5% cash back on travel purchases made through Chase, 3% back on dining and drugstores, and 1% back on everything else.

    Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable APR

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    $200 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months


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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Good bonus cash-back rate at US supermarkets
    • No annual fee
    Cons
    • If you spend more than $6,000 at US supermarkets in a year, you should use another card to earn bonus rewards once you hit that cap
    • Earn $200 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
    • 3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
    • 2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores.
    • 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
    • Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
    • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
    • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits.
    • No annual fee.
    • Terms Apply.


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    The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is a cash-back card, earning 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 each calendar year — and 1% after that — 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select department stores, and 1% cash back on everything else (cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars).

    There’s also a “Preferred” version of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express — the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns a bigger 6% back on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets per calendar year (and 1% after), 6% back on select U.S. streaming services, 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit including taxis, rideshares, parking, and tolls, and 1% cash back on everything else (cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars). The higher-earning rate on the Preferred makes it worth paying the annual fee — however, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is still a great option if you’re opposed to that.

    Regular APR

    11.99% – 22.99% Variable

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Intro APR

    0% intro APR for 14 months


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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Generous cash back for quarterly bonus categories
    • Discover will match your cash back at the end of your first account year
    • No annual fee
    Cons
    • Cap on how much bonus cash back you can earn each quarter
    • If the quarterly categories aren’t convenient for you, you can earn more cash back with a different card
    • The information related to the Discover it® Cash Back has been collected by Business Insider and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
    • Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There’s no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched.
    • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. 1% back on all other purchases.
    • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
    • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
    • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.

    The Discover it® Cash Back works similarly to the Chase Freedom Flex℠: It offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent each quarter in rotating bonus categories (then 1% back) and 1% cash back on everything else (from April to June 30, 2021, you can earn 5% cash back at gas Stations, wholesale clubs and select streaming services on up to $1,500 in purchases after enrollment, then 1%).

    It doesn’t offer the same bonus categories as the Chase Freedom Flex℠, though, although sometimes they overlap. 

    The Discover it® Cash Back is compelling for one other reason: Discover will match all your cash back at the end of your first cardmember year. So if you earned $500 in cash back in your first year, Discover would match that $500 for a total of $1,000 in cash back. This awesome feature is available on all Discover credit cards — and all Discover cards have no annual fee.

    Regular APR

    15.49% – 25.49% variable APR

    Featured Reward

    One-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months of account opening

    Intro APR

    0% intro APR for 15 months


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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Earns 1.5% cash back on every purchase
    • Intro APR on purchases
    • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
    Cons
    • Other cards earn more cash back
    • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
    • One-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months of account opening
    • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.49% – 25.49% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
    • No Foreign Transaction Fees
    • Travel Accident Insurance
    • Push notification each time a new purchase is approved on your account


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    The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card has no annual fee and earns 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. In this regard, it’s similar to the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, though you can’t combine your rewards with other credit cards to redeem them for travel; this is strictly a cash-back card.

    There are also no foreign transaction fees, and the card’s has a solid welcome offer: One-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months of account opening

    Regular APR

    13.24%–19.24% variable APR

    Credit Score

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening


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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Broad 5% and 2% cash-back categories (you can earn bonus cash back at office supply stores and at gas stations and restaurants)
    • Intro APR offer for purchases
    • No annual fee
    • You can pair this card with a card that earns Ultimate Rewards to redeem your cash back for travel
    Cons
    • Annual cap on bonus categories
    • Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
    • Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
    • Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year. Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases
    • With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring
    • With Zero Liability you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information
    • No Annual Fee
    • Redeem rewards for cash back, gift cards, travel and more through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
    • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases


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    The Ink Business Cash® Credit Card is another solid Chase entry, although this one is a small-business credit card — however, anyone with just about any kind of business can qualify, whether you have a brick-and-mortar space with employees, or you’re a freelancer, or even someone with a small side gig.

    Just like with the Chase Freedom cards, you can pool the “cash” you earn with points from a Chase travel card, effectively converting your cash into (potentially) more valuable points. Alternatively, you can reap the rewards in the form of cash instead.

    The Ink Business Cash® Credit Card earns 5% cash back (or 5x points) on the first $25,000 in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone services each cardholder year. It earns 2% back (or 2x points) on the first $25,000 in purchases at gas stations and restaurants each year, and 1% (or 1x point) on everything else with no cap.

    Regular APR

    12.99% to 23.99%

    Featured Reward

    Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months.

    Intro APR

    0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months from the date of account opening


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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • 20% points bonus when you make at least 20 purchases in a billing period
    • No annual fee
    • Access to Amex Offers
    Cons
    • The information related to the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected by Business Insider and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
    • 2X points at U.S. supermarkets, on up to $6K in purchases
    • 1X points on your other purchases
    • Membership Rewards® Pay with Points
    • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months from the date of account opening, then a variable APR, 12.99% to 23.99%

    American Express Membership Rewards is Amex’s in-house rewards program, and the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is the best no-fee card that earns them. You can redeem Amex points for travel, merchandise, statement credits, gift cards, and more. However, the best option is to transfer them to an Amex airline or hotel partner.

    The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express earns 2x points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 of purchases per year, then 1x after that) and at Amex Travel, and 1x on everything else. It also offers a 20% bonus on points earned in a billing period when you make 20 or more purchases during that period.

    Like most Amex cards, the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express features a few travel and purchase protections, as well as access to the Amex Offers program.

    While most people will be better off with a version of the card that has an annual fee, the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
    , the regular Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express is still a strong option — especially since there’s no annual fee.

    Most airline credit cards worth having come with an annual fee — although many of them will waive it for the first year. Those cards tend to come with useful benefits for people who fly with the airline, like priority boarding or free checked bags. You can learn more in our guide to the best airline credit cards.

    However, if you’re interested in earning frequent flyer miles with a particular airline through your spending, but don’t care about those perks and want to avoid the fee, you have a couple of options. 

    If you’re a Delta flyer, you can go for the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, which offers 2 Delta SkyMiles on every eligible dollar spent with Delta and at restaurants worldwide, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. It also gets you a 20% discount — in the form of a statement credit — on Delta inflight purchases like food or drinks.

    American loyalists can consider the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card. This card offers 2x AAdvantage miles on every dollar spent at grocery stores and with American Airlines, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. 

    United’s United Gateway℠ Card, with an annual fee of $0, earns 3x miles on grocery store purchases (on up to $1,500 per month, then 1x) through the end of September 2021. The card also earns 2x miles on United purchases, gas, public transit, rideshare services, and taxis, and 1x miles on everything else.

    There are many other no-annual-fee credit cards that don’t appear on this list. Here’s an overview of the cards we considered that didn’t make the final cut.

    • Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card — This card earns 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% back on all other purchases. 
    • Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card — You’ll earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase, which is better than the standard rate of 1 point/mile per dollar on credit cards, but not by much.
    • Citi Rewards+® Card
      — This card is unique in that it rounds up to the nearest 10 points on all your purchases. It also earns 2x points at supermarkets and gas stations (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 point per dollar). Cards like the Wells Fargo Propel and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express have the potential to earn you more rewards, but if you already have a Citi credit card and want to boost your Citi points balance, this card is worth a look. 
    • Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card — With this card, you’ll earn 1.5 points per dollar on every purchase. That’s not a bad return on spending, but this card — and other Bank of America cards —  are most rewarding if you’re already a Bank of America customer and have enough money in qualifying counts to qualify for the Preferred Rewards program, which gets you bonus credit card rewards.

    Why trust our recommendations?

    At Personal Finance Insider, our goal is to help readers make the best decisions with their money. To that end, we spend hours comparing and contrasting the features and benefits of top credit cards so you don’t have to.

    We understand that “best” can be subjective, so we also include information on where each credit card excels, and where it may fall short.

    How did we choose the best no-annual-fee credit cards?

    We reviewed dozens of no-annual-fee credit cards across all categories — cash back, travel, airline, hotel, and more — and narrowed our focus to cards that offer more than 1 point or mile per dollar on at least one category of purchase. We also looked at welcome bonuses, rewards caps (such as the $1,500 quarterly limit on the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Discover it® Cash Back), and other fine print.

    Is it ever worth paying an annual fee for a credit card?

    Many of the top rewards credit cards have annual fees — ranging from $95 to $595 — and it can be worth paying for one if you’ll use all of its benefits.

    In many cases, cards with annual fees have perks that are tied to travel, and if you rarely hit the road, these may not be the perfect fit. Always do an honest assessment of a card’s perks and see how they match up with your lifestyle before applying for a credit card.

    Sarah Silbert is the senior reviews editor at Personal Finance Insider. She’s covered personal finance and credit card rewards for six years, and she’s a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF).

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