Is It Worth Paying an Annual Fee for a Credit Card?

In short, yes — as long as the card's extra benefits outstrip the cost of carrying it.
Robin Saks Frankel
By Robin Saks Frankel 
Edited by Kenley Young

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The best things in life aren't always free, including when it comes to credit cards. Annual fees can be a pain, but there are times when it can be well worth forking over a fee in exchange for a slew of money-saving perks and benefits.

In 2022, the average annual fee for general-purpose credit card accounts that charged a fee was about $105, according to data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The cost will vary depending on the credit card. Fees of $95 are common on rewards cards; high-end cards with plentiful perks can have fees upwards of $500.

Let's take a look at some scenarios where the value that comes with a particular card can outweigh its cost of ownership.

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You need to build credit

There are lots of reasons why someone may have poor credit, but there's only one good motive for someone who falls in that group to choose a card with an annual fee: It's their best option.

Although there are a handful of cards without an annual fee aimed at those with thin or damaged credit files, depending on your financial history (or lack thereof), you may not qualify. Here are some examples of when it might make sense to pay for this type of card.

Capital Bank Open Sky Secured Credit Card
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  • You don't have a bank account: The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card charges a $35 annual fee. But, this card doesn't require a bank account or a credit check, making it one of the best options for those whose profiles might not otherwise qualify them for other cards. You can find secured credit cards that don't charge annual fees, but most will check your credit, and most won't approve you if you're unbanked.

  • Your credit is just fair: The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is a rewards card that pays 1.5% cash back rewards. It's also available to those with fair credit, making it an accessible option for those who might not otherwise qualify for a rewards card. It comes with an annual fee of $39. If you put more than $2,600 a year on the card, you'll break even with the annual fee.

You want better cash-back rewards

For those who spend a lot in specific categories, it can make sense to pay a card's annual fee when the cash you'll earn back will outweigh the cost of that fee. Among the scenarios where this could be the more lucrative choice:

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
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  • Your household spends a lot on groceries: The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95. A similar card, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express has no annual fee at all. Why would you opt for the Preferred, then? Well, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). Terms apply (see rates and fees). The Everyday, by contrast, earns only 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (also on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%.) Terms apply (see rates and fees). Even with the annual fee, you'll net more overall with the Preferred if you spend at least $61 a week on groceries. Plus, the Preferred also earns 6% back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 3% back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, while the Everyday earns 3% back at U.S. gas stations on up to $6,000 in spending per year, as well as 3% back on U.S. online retail purchases on up to $6,000 in spending per year. Terms apply.

  • You spend a lot of time (and money) out on the town. Capital One has a similar situation with its Savor-branded cards as American Express does with its Blue Cash cards. The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has an annual fee of $95 and earns rewards that include 4% cash back at restaurants, on entertainment and on popular streaming services. The $0-annual-fee Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, meanwhile pays 3% cash back in those same categories. If your dining, entertainment and streaming spending is high enough (at least $9,500 a year), the extra 1% can make the card with the fee the better deal. Both cards also earn 3% at grocery stores and 1% on most other purchases.

You're eyeing travel perks or a massive sign-up bonus

Airline cards

Co-branded airline cards typically offer perks that equal or exceed the annual cost of ownership. The more you fly, the more valuable the perks will be to you. Among the scenarios that would make a co-branded airline card worth the cost:

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card
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  • You fly at least once a year with a partner and check your bags: The United℠ Explorer Card offers a first bag free for you and a companion on your reservation, saving you up to $35 per bag each way, or $140 total round trip. With an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95, you'll easily come out ahead after just your first flight.

  • You want to take a big trip every year with a companion: If your plans fit within Alaska Airlines' routes, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card scores you a Companion Fare each year on your account anniversary, after spending $6,000 or more the previous 12 months. This will cover a companion’s ticket on any Alaska Airlines coach flight for as little as $122 ($99, plus taxes and fees as low as $23 total). Depending on the route, this perk could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars, handily surpassing the card's annual fee of $95.

Hotel cards

Whether it's because you're partial to a particular brand or you're aiming for elite status and the perks that go with it, owning a co-branded hotel card can often be worth more than the money you pay for it. Here are some situations where that could prove true:

World Of Hyatt Credit Card
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  • You know you'll stay in a hotel at least one night a year: One of the nice things about the World of Hyatt Credit Card is that it comes with a free night award every year after your account anniversary (at a Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel). If you know you'll use it, that free night will likely equal or exceed in value the cost of the card's $95 annual fee.

  • You are a frequent business traveler: You spend so much time sleeping in hotels that you have the room service menu memorized. If you're on the road this often, it can pay to have brand loyalty and a card that matches. The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card delivers perks some useful perks, for a $150 annual fee. The card also grants you Hilton Honors™ Gold Status, which means perks like daily food and beverage credit and other goodies. Terms apply (see rates and fees).

General travel cards

You aren't partial to any one hotel or airline, preferring to pick what suits your needs for that particular trip. There are cards that might still be worth the out-of-pocket cost to you, especially if they come with large sign-up bonuses. Among those who might find an annual fee worth paying on these kinds of cards:

  • You look to rack up free travel through spending: The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns 2 miles per $1 spent on most spending. Rewards can be redeemed as a statement credit against any flight or hotel purchase. Plus, the card offers a rich sign-up bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel. The card's annual fee is $95, but the bonus alone essentially pays for the cost of card ownership for several years. And that's without even considering the card's ongoing rewards and flexibility.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card
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  • You travel a significant amount by car, plane, cruise ship, commuter rail, etc. An annual fee of $550 may seem like an exorbitant price to pay for the privilege of owning the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, but consider the entire package. The card comes with an annual $300 travel credit, which significantly reduces the net cost of ownership. You'll also get perks like complimentary Priority Pass Select lounge membership, primary rental car coverage and a lengthy list of travel partners you can transfer your points to at a 1:1 ratio. Plus, you'll get 50% more value from your points when you redeem them for travel through Chase. This card, too, comes with a large sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Travel℠. — another way the annual fee is defrayed.

Bottom line

You can find plenty of rewarding credit cards that won't charge you for the privilege of carrying them. But generally, cards that do charge annual fees offer even better benefits or perks — extras that can easily outstrip the cost of such fees. In many cases, you'll come out ahead, despite the upfront cost.

Information related to the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card. To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, see this page.

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