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NerdWallet’s Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards of 2016

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Paying an annual fee on your credit card can be worth the cost if it means earning higher rewards. But for purists who want to keep their fees as low as possible, a wide range of cards offer great perks with no annual fees whatsoever.

No-fee credit cards are especially valuable if you’re trying to build your credit score. Because they’re not costing you anything, you can keep the cards open virtually forever, lengthening the average age of your accounts, which can boost your score.

NerdWallet’s best no annual fee credit cards

Best for … Card
Bonus cash rewards Chase Freedom®
Long 0% APR period Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer
Flat-rate cash back Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Best bonus cash rewards

Chase Freedom®

Apply Now on Chase's secure website

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Qualify with Good credit

Cons

  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better

Bonus Offer

Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

APR

  • APR: 14.24%-23.24% Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • 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
  • 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 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants, and wholesale clubs
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • No annual fee

Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in spending in quarterly rotating bonus categories, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24%-23.24% Variable. 3% foreign transaction fee.

Benefits of the Chase Freedom®:

  • The rotating bonus categories are in common spending areas such as grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants, making it easy to benefit without changing your spending habits much.
  • The introductory APR period is quite long, both for purchases and balance transfers.

Drawbacks of the Chase Freedom®:

  • In some categories, like groceries, you may easily hit the $1,500 spending cap in a single quarter, especially if you take advantage of the opportunity to earn 5% back by buying gift cards to other retailers at the grocery store.
  • You have to remember to activate the bonus categories, or miss out on the extra cash back.

Bottom line:

The Chase Freedom® provides versatility and value at no cost. It’s a solid rewards card for people who don’t mind keeping track of rotating bonus categories, and we like the card’s bonus categories for their universal appeal.

Best 0% APR period

Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer

Apply Now on Discover's secure website

Pros

  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No annual fee
  • 0% on purchases for 6 months and 0% on balance transfers for 18 months
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • Slightly less merchant acceptance for Discover in US - acceptance outside of US can be an issue
  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better

Bonus Offer

You could turn $200 into $400 with Cashback Match™. We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% on purchases for 6 months and 0% on balance transfers for 18 months

APR

  • APR: 11.24% – 23.24% Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • You could turn $200 into $400 with Cashback Match™. We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.
  • Earn 5% cash back in new bonus categories like gas, restaurants, Amazon and more - up to $1500 every quarter you activate. Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • FICO® Credit Scores for free on statements and online.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

Earn 5% back on rotating bonus categories, up to $1,500 in spending, and 1% back on all other purchases. Introductory APR of 0% on purchases for 6 months and 0% on balance transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 11.24% – 23.24% Variable. No foreign transaction fees.

Benefits of the Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer:

  • The introductory APR period for balance transfers is much longer than most other cards.
  • The bonus categories are similar, but not identical to the  Chase Freedom®. We like that the Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer’s first quarter bonus categories include not just gas but all ground transportation, including public transit, taxis, Uber and Lyft, and rental cars.
  • There are no foreign transaction fees on Discover cards.

Drawbacks of the Discover it®- 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer:

  • Having to activate the quarterly bonus categories can be a hassle.
  • You’ll pay a 3% balance transfer fee, which can cut into the money you’re saving on interest during the introductory APR period.
  • The introductory APR on purchases is only six months, shorter than the  Chase Freedom®’s.
  • Discover isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or MasterCard.

Bottom line:

The quarterly bonus categories are flexible and generous — as long as you don’t mind having to keep track of them. With an impressive introductory APR on balance transfers, this is a great card for the bargain price of $0 a year.

Best for flat-rate cash back

Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Apply Now on Citibank's secure website

Pros

  • High rewards rate
  • No annual fee
  • 0% if you qualify for 18 mos on transfers

Bonus Offer

Earn cash back twice on every purchase

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% balance transfers for 18 months*

APR

  • Min APR: 13.24%, Variable
  • Max APR: 23.24%, Variable
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.49%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn cash back twice on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back
  • 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.24% - 23.24% based on your creditworthiness
  • Click 'Apply Now' to see the applicable balance transfer fee and how making a balance transfer impacts interest on purchases.
  • No categories to track, no caps on cash back, no annual fee*

Earn 1% cash back on purchases, then an additional 1% back when you pay them off. Introductory APR of 0% for 18 months on balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 13.24% - 23.24% Variable . 3% foreign transaction fee.

Benefits of the Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer:

  • If you pay off your purchases quickly, the Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer’s 1% + 1% cash back is hard to top.
  • The Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer offers a waived fee on your first late payment and a flexible due date.
  • The long introductory APR period is very generous.
  • You don’t have to keep track of rotating bonus categories.

Drawbacks of the Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer:

  • People who are good at taking advantage of rotating bonus categories may not want to settle for less than 5% cash back.
  • If you plan to carry a balance, you may end up waiting quite a long time before you score the other half of your cash back. In that case, cards that base rewards on spending only, rather than on how much you’ve paid off, may be better.

Bottom line:

The Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is a great card for people who want the simplicity of a flat rewards rate. The doubled 1% cash back is a great rate in today’s environment, and of course, you can’t beat an annual fee of $0.

Methodology

NerdWallet’s credit cards team selects cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to win in multiple categories.

Last updated January 14, 2016.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.


Image via iStock.