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What Are The Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards of 2018?

We evaluated over 160 credit cards in order to determine what ranked as the best card without an annual fee. Our research showed that the Discover it® Cash Back is the best no annual fee credit card for most people because it delivers the most rewards on typical everyday spending. We’ve also included our top recommendations for some of the most popular and specific needs below, like a long 0% intro APR offer or business-friendly terms.

Top No Annual Fee Cards

Best ForCredit Needed
Discover it® Cash BackBest For Most PeopleGood/Excellent
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® CardTravelGood/Excellent
Discover it® SecuredBad or No CreditPoor/No Credit
Citi Simplicity® CardLong 0% Intro APR PeriodGood/Excellent
Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for BusinessBusinessesGood/Excellent
Discover it® Student Cash BackStudentsFair/No Credit

Top No Annual Fee Cards

Best ForCredit Needed
Discover it® Cash BackBest For Most PeopleGood/Excellent
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® CardTravelGood/Excellent
Discover it® SecuredBad or No CreditPoor/No Credit
Citi Simplicity® CardLong 0% Intro APR PeriodGood/Excellent
Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for BusinessBusinessesGood/Excellent
Discover it® Student Cash BackStudentsFair/No Credit

The cards listed above are excellent no annual fee cards that will perform well for consumers who want to minimize costs. If you'd like to understand more about our recommendations or want some tips on how to get the most out of each card, we've provided that below. Our team also built a unique comparison tool for no annual fee cards, which will give you a personalized ranking of the most rewarding cards based on your own spending. We complemented our picks and tool with a comprehensive guide on the best standards to find the top card without yearly fees for you as well.

Table of Contents

In-Depth Reviews of The Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards

Below we'll discuss how each of the cards we picked came to be crowned as the best for different types of consumers. On top of lacking annual fees, these cards do away with other types of costs that you’d care about, including foreign transaction fees and late payment fees.

Best No Annual Fee Credit Card For Most People: Discover it® Cash Back

Annual Fee
$0
Purchase APR
13.74% - 24.74% Variable
Credit Needed Excellent, Good
Details
  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: 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.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

The Discover it® Cash Back offers the best cash back rewards available for cards without an annual fee. Cardholders can earn an excellent 5% cash back on categories that change every three months, for up to $1,500 in purchases—a substantial step up from the meager 1.5% to 2.0% cash back rate offered by most other cards. These are common categories such as gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, which is convenient as people won't have to go out of their way to achieve a high rewards rate.

Discover ups the ante by automatically matching all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, which is a perk that's unparalleled by other no annual fee cards and has the potential to be more valuable than any existing sign-up bonus. So, if by then end of your first year with the card you've earned $250 in cash back rewards, you'll receive an additional $250. This benefit effectively allows you to receive up to 10% cash back on the card's rotating categories for the first year of card membership—it’s a hard rate to match for any card. The card also lacks many of the additional fees that often plague so called 'no fee' cards, like foreign transaction fees and fees for spending over your credit limit, making it a great choice for applicants who are price-conscious.

Best Travel Credit Card With No Annual Fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

Annual Fee
$0
Purchase APR
14.24%-26.74% (Variable)
Credit Needed Excellent/Good
Details
  • New! Earn 30K bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – that's a $300 cash redemption value
  • Earn 3X points for eating out and ordering in
  • Earn 3X points for gas stations, rideshares and transit
  • Earn 3X points for travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals
  • Earn 1X points on other purchases
  • $0 annual fee
  • 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a 14.24%-26.74% variable APR; balance transfer fees apply
  • Select "Apply Now" to learn more about the product features, terms, and conditions

Backpackers, road warriors and even the occasional traveler will find that the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card is the top travel card without an annual fee thanks to its industry leading 3% rewards rate on travel and transit purchases. Many other no annual fee cards define "travel" as strictly airfare and hotel purchases, which is why the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card's has caught the attention of many travelers. That's because this card allows cardholders to get an excellent 3% rewards rate on loosely-related travel purchases, like car rentals and gas station purchases, making it the most well-rounded travel card. As an example of how comprehensive its rewards are, let's assume you were planning a trip to Seattle and needed to rent a car: In this scenario, you'd earn an outstanding 3% rewards rate on your plane ticket, Avis rental, hotel stay and gas station purchases when using the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card. There is simply no other no annual fee card that comes close to matching this high of a rewards rate across so many different types of travel purchases.

The card even comes in handy when you're not traveling, as its excellent 3% rewards rate extends to restaurants and eligible streaming services. This is a rather unique feature among no annual fee cards and a great one when you when you consider how many Americans subscribe to Hulu and Netflix. Overall, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card offers cardholders the best travel rewards that are available without having to pay an annual fee.

Best No Annual Fee Credit Card for Poor Credit: Discover it® Secured

Annual Fee
$0
Purchase APR
24.74% Variable
Credit Needed Please refer to issuer's website
Details
  • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
  • Your Secured Credit Card requires a refundable security deposit up to the amount we can approve of at least $200 which will establish your credit line. You will need to provide your bank information when submitting your security deposit.
  • We will automatically begin reviewing your account starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: 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.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

The Discover it® Secured is the best choice for people with limited credit because it has a high rewards rate on top of not charging an annual fee. It's worth noting that this card offers the best rewards among available secured cards. The card requires cardholders to make a refundable security deposit of at least $200, which is a standard feature when compared to competing cards. Once you make the deposit, you'll earn a respectable 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 each quarter—a stark contrast to most other secured cards that don't offer any rewards. Up to that ceiling, the cash earned will be comparable to cards requiring higher credit scores.

Beyond rewarding you for everyday purchases, Discover has a feature that matches all the cash earned at the end of your first year. For instance, consumers who manage to get $200 in cash back rewards in their first year of card membership would receive an additional $200. Considering that most secured cards don't offer sign-up bonuses, this is the best replacement for one that's currently available across all secured cards.

Best No Annual Fee Card With a 0% Intro APR: Citi Simplicity® Card

Annual Fee
No Annual Fee
Purchase APR
15.74% - 25.74% Variable
Credit Needed Excellent
Details
  • $0 fraud liability if card is stolen
  • Rental car insurance
  • Travel insurance
  • Purchase protection

The Citi Simplicity® Card is our top no-annual-fee choice for applicants who are searching for low cost short term financing, or looking to execute a balance transfer. That's because the Citi Simplicity® Card has a 0% intro APR period that is 3 months longer than most competing cards—it stands at 18 months on purchases and balance transfers. Most of the time if a card offers a 0% intro APR period, it will be for either purchases or balance transfers. While having both isn't necessary for most applicants, it's a nice option to have and shows why the Citi Simplicity® Card is at the head of its class. The promotional rate makes it a great pick for anyone who is struggling with credit card debt, as they'll be able to start chipping away at their credit card bill without having to worry about an annual fee or interest charges for those first 18 months.

Another feature worth mentioning on the Citi Simplicity® Card is its lack of a late payment fee. It's fairly typical for a card to penalize you with a $35 fee every time you fail to make a payment on time. While we always recommend cardholders to pay on time, this is a great safety net to have as small fees can quickly add up and make it difficult to make progress when you're paying down existing debt.

Best Small Business Credit Card With No Annual Fee: Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business

Annual Fee
$0
Purchase APR
14.74% - 22.74% (Variable)
Credit Needed Excellent, Good
Details
  • Earning unlimited 1.5% cash back could mean thousands of dollars each year going back into your business
  • Plus, a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Save on interest with 0% intro APR on purchases for 9 months; 14.74% - 22.74% variable APR after that
  • No annual fee
  • Use Spark Cash Select across all your business spend, with no categories to limit your purchasing
  • Rewards won't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem your cash back for any amount
  • Get employee cards at no additional cost, and earn rewards from their business spend
Note: The information in this box was provided by Capital One and is not part of our independent analysis.

The Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business is the leading no annual fee card for business owners who want great cash back rewards without a complex structure. The card is the best in its category since it effectively grants companies a 1.5% discount on everything. Cards that offer a similar rewards rate often impose spending caps or have rotating categories. The simplicity of the card's unlimited 1.5% cash back is what makes this card attractive to business owners.

Keep in mind that companies that spend more than $19,000 per year on their credit card will be better off with the annual fee version of the card. That's because the $95 annual fee version, or the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business, rewards users with a superior 2% cash back rate. Regardless, both cards share the same simple rewards structure and are the best cards for business owners looking to earn cash back.

Best No Annual Fee Card For Students: Discover it® Student Cash Back

Annual Fee
$0
Purchase APR
14.74% - 23.74% Variable
Credit Needed Fair
Details
  • INTRO OFFER: 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 at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or Amazon.com up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 14.74% - 23.74%.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

The Discover it® Student Cash Back is our top no annual fee pick for students for two reasons: it's easy to qualify for and it offers a high rewards rate. The Discover it® Student Cash Back shares the same rewards that makes the Discover it® Cash Back our overall winner. The card allows students to earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter, for up to $1,500 in purchases, which is much higher than the standard 1.5% to 2.0% offered by competing cards. Furthermore, the card's rotating calendar for 2018 aligns well with the student budget, as they include purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants.

Most other cards geared towards college students impose costly fees rather than rewards. For instance, some cards come with annual fees and foreign transaction fees. Furthermore, a lot of these cards are secured, meaning they'll require a commitment of a few hundred dollars up front before you can even get the card. The Discover it® Student Cash Back is also one of the few cards to waive your late fee on your first missed payment.

Credit Card Comparison Tool

Anyone searching for a no annual fee credit card recommendation based on their specific spending habits should use our comparison tool below. Simply click edit on the right hand side of the tool and input your estimated monthly expenses. Our comparison tool will then list the estimated rewards you'll earn over two years across several different no annual fee cards based on your inputs.

Assumptions Based On Monthly Spend of: $1,430 Edit
General:
U.S. Gas Stations:
U.S. Supermarkets:
Airlines:
Hotel:
U.S. Restaurants:
Office:
Utilities:
Computing:
Card Annual Fee 2-yr Net Rewards Rate

The Net Rewards Rate is equal to the Rewards Value over two years divided by the total spending. The total spending is equal to the values entered into the tool and multiplied by 24 months. See the rewards Value note to see details on how it is calculated.

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. All estimates are based on the spend assumptions entered above (which you can edit).

Bonus Value

The bonus field shows our estimate for the value of the card’s welcome bonus. If the bonus is point or mile based, we multiply the total bonus points/miles by our estimate for their value to arrive at a dollar equivalent. We display $0 if there is no bonus or if the user doesn’t qualify for the bonus based on the current spending entered into the tool. All estimates are based on the spend assumptions entered above (which you can edit).

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

2-yr Rewards Value

The Rewards value is calculated by adding together the rewards earned from charging purchases to the card over two years and any welcome bonuses (if applicable). They are then multiplied by our estimated point/mile value, with any annual fees (if applicable) subtracted. All values are based on our own estimates for the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using a card and on the spend assumptions entered above (which you can edit).

The estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone. They are not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that 1.72%
$0
Earn a $500 bonus once you spend $4,500 on purchases in the first 3 months
$591
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 686 x $1 = $686
Less Annual Fees -$95
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 591

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
APR 18.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earning unlimited 2% cash back could mean thousands of dollars each year going back into your business
  • Plus, a one-time $500 cash bonus once you spend $4,500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Use Spark Cash across all your business spend, with no categories to limit your purchasing
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
  • Rewards won't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem your cash back for any amount
  • Get employee cards at no additional cost, and earn rewards from their business spend

Note: The information in this box was provided by Capital One® and is not part of our independent analysis.

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
$0 2.48%
$300
New! Earn 30K bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months - that's a $300 cash redemption value
$850
Graph Card More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 54,960 x $0.01 = $550
Bonuses
30,000 x $0.01 = $300
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 850

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0
APR 14.24%-26.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • New! Earn 30K bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – that's a $300 cash redemption value
  • Earn 3X points for eating out and ordering in
  • Earn 3X points for gas stations, rideshares and transit
  • Earn 3X points for travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals
  • Earn 1X points on other purchases
  • $0 annual fee
  • 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a 14.24%-26.74% variable APR; balance transfer fees apply
  • Select "Apply Now" to learn more about the product features, terms, and conditions
Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business
$0 2.08%
$200
One time bonus of $200 once you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
$715
Graph Card More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 515 x $1 = $515
Bonuses
0 x $1 = $200
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 715

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0
APR 14.74% - 22.74% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Earning unlimited 1.5% cash back could mean thousands of dollars each year going back into your business
  • Plus, a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Save on interest with 0% intro APR on purchases for 9 months; 14.74% - 22.74% variable APR after that
  • No annual fee
  • Use Spark Cash Select across all your business spend, with no categories to limit your purchasing
  • Rewards won't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem your cash back for any amount
  • Get employee cards at no additional cost, and earn rewards from their business spend

Note: The information in this box was provided by Capital One® and is not part of our independent analysis.

Discover it® Cash Back
$0 1.50%
$171
INTRO OFFER: 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.
$514
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Bonuses
171 x $1 = $171
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 514

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0
APR 13.74% - 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: 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.
  • Redeem cash back any amount, any time. Rewards never expire.
  • Use your rewards at Amazon.com checkout.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
Discover it® Student Cash Back
$0 1.50%
$171
INTRO OFFER: 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.
$514
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Bonuses
171 x $1 = $171
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 514

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0
APR 14.74% - 23.74% Variable

Card Details

  • INTRO OFFER: 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 at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants or Amazon.com up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 14.74% - 23.74%.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
Discover it® Secured
$0 1.50%
$171
INTRO OFFER: 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.
$514
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Bonuses
171 x $1 = $171
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 514

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0
APR 24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • No Annual Fee, cash back on every purchase, and helps you build your credit with responsible use.
  • Your Secured Credit Card requires a refundable security deposit up to the amount we can approve of at least $200 which will establish your credit line. You will need to provide your bank information when submitting your security deposit.
  • We will automatically begin reviewing your account starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, automatically. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
  • INTRO OFFER: 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.
  • Receive FREE Social Security number alerts-Discover will monitor thousands of risky websites when you sign up.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
Chase Freedom®
$0 1.44%
$150
Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
$493
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 343 x $1 = $343
Bonuses
0 x $1 = $150
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 493

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee $0
APR 16.74% - 25.49% Variable

Card Details

  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.74-25.49%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • 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
  • 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
Citi Simplicity® Card
No Annual Fee 0.00%
$0
$0
Graph Card Read Review More Details and Value Calculation

Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months

Card Rewards Estimated Rewards Value Dollars*
Spending Rewards 0 - $0
Total Net Estimated Rewards Through 24 Months 0

*The value estimate is calculated using ValuePenguin.com rewards point value.

Annual Fee No Annual Fee
APR 15.74% - 25.74% Variable

Card Details

  • $0 fraud liability if card is stolen
  • Rental car insurance
  • Travel insurance
  • Purchase protection

How To Select The Best No Annual Fee Credit Card

The first filter we’d suggest is whether you carry balances over each month. Anyone who carries a balance on their credit card and is struggling to make a dent on their bill due to the high cost of credit card interest should be searching for a credit card that excels in balance transfers. A balance transfer allows you to take the balance from one card and transfer it to another. Assuming the card has no balance transfer fee, or a small one, transferring your balance to a card with a lower APR will save you money on interest. The best cards will offer a 0% intro APR period for 12 months or longer, giving you ample time to start cutting into your debt without incurring interest charges.

Someone with bad credit or a limited credit history should focus on trying to improve their credit score before applying for a no annual fee card with superior rewards. That's because many no annual fee cards, particularly those that offer high rewards rates, are strictly for applicants with good or excellent credit. Thankfully, secured credit cards offer a method through which to improve your credit score while still earning some rewards. Many of these cards require a security deposit, but often allow you to 'graduate' to an unsecured credit line after showing financial responsibility through on-time payments. Once you move on from an unsecured card, you'll be able to earn your initial deposit back.

While students often have a limited credit history, they tend to have more options than a non-student applicant with the same credit. That's because there are specific credit cards that are targeted towards students. These are usually the best option for students since they offer a middle ground between cards that require excellent credit and secured cards meant for those with bad credit.

The simplest option for most people interested in earning rewards through a credit card without an annual fee will be a cash back card. You should be searching for cards that have a rewards rate of at least 1.5%. Most cash back cards will offer a flat cash back rate for all purchases, say 1.5%. However, the top cash back cards have categories, like restaurant and grocery purchases, that will allow you to earn bonus cash back, typically 5% in total. While these cards offer lower cash back rates on all other purchases, they provide the highest upside thanks to the bonus cash back in certain categories.

People who spend more than $1,000 per month on their card would be better off with a card that actually charges an annual fee. That's because at this threshold of spending, the rewards you earn will more than likely offset a card's annual fee. Anyone who spends this much should read our recommendations on the best rewards credit cards.

How We Selected the Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards

Over the course of a few weeks, our team analyzed over 160 credit cards that come without an annual fee. After carefully evaluating each card, we came to the conclusion that there is no single 'best' no annual fee card because cardholders have varied needs. For instance, some users may be interested in travel, while others may be searching for a secured card. This conclusion led to us selecting six different cards as the best no annual fee credit cards of 2018. The cards that we selected had the highest rewards, the most staying power, valuable bonuses and other worthwhile perks and benefits.

Since not every card feature can be quantified, we made the conscious decision to measure certain features based on how useful we deemed them to be. For instance, some cards offer cardholders the ability to check their FICO credit score, but it's a feature that has been replicated many times over. Therefore, while this would still be a net positive for the card in question, this specific feature wouldn't hold as much weight as another more unique feature may. Furthermore, no decision was made by a single person, as each was discussed by our in-house team of credit card experts.

Aside from our own internal analysis, we examined the recommendations set forth by our competitors. We wanted to make sure that we considered varied viewpoints. We also scoured the internet for popular credit card forums to see if any card had an unusually large number of complaints from cardholders. This allowed us to avoid recommending cards that seemed like good choices, but fell flat due to something that's not immediately measurable through analysis.

Factors We Considered

Fees: While all of our top recommended cards have no annual fee, we also considered other types of fees, like foreign transaction fees and balance transfer fees. These types of fees were more critical in certain categories than in others. For instance, in the travel category, the presence of a foreign transaction fee is a huge detriment to a card since it essentially negates any rewards you earn when you make purchases outside of the U.S.

Rewards Rate: Our search for the best no annual fee cards was focused on finding cards that provided cardholders the greatest value. Since none of the cards we evaluated have an annual fee, a large portion of their value is driven by the rewards they offer its users. We determined that most prospective applicants would be able to qualify for cards that offer a rewards rate of at least 1.5%. Therefore, we gave preference to cards that were able to meet this threshold.

Staying Power: Our selections favored long-term utility over short-term rewards. While it's true that short-term rewards can boost a card's value over the first few years, our selections were made under the assumption that our readers would be applying for a card and holding onto it for several years. Therefore, cards with higher rewards rates took front stage when compared to those that come with higher sign-up bonuses.

Sign-Up Bonus: While sign-up bonuses weren't weighed as heavily as an on-going rewards rate, these bonuses still greatly impacted our best list. Generally, we favored sign-up bonuses that had smaller spending requirements since this means they're also more accessible to a larger number of people.

Other Perks: Our in-depth analysis of no annual fee cards also took into consideration any unique perks a card may have. This also allowed us to determine whether any of the cards we analyzed were missing a critical feature. While we considered these 'other' perks and benefits carefully, most of the time they were used as a way to break a tie between closely matched cards.

No Annual Fee Cards That Almost Made Our List

As with any 'best' list, there are strong contenders that barely missed making it on the final list. The cards listed below were strongly considered, but they failed to make it for the reasons that are outlined below:

Citi® Double Cash Card: Make no mistake, the Citi® Double Cash Card is a great cash back card, as it offers 1% cash back on purchases and another 1% cash back as you pay for said purchases. However, in terms of rewards, it pales in comparison to the Discover it® Cash Back. That's because it doesn't take much spending in the Discover it® Cash Back's bonus categories to outearn the Citi® Double Cash Card. Even in the short-term the Discover it® Cash Back comes out ahead due to Discover matching all the cash back you earn in the first year.

Chase Freedom®: The Chase Freedom® offers similarly lucrative 5% rotating categories to the Discover it® Cash Back. And while the Chase Freedom® offers a sign-up bonus, it's only worth $150. Ultimately, Discover's cashback match for the first year of card membership will make the Discover it® Cash Back far more lucrative for someone looking to maximize cash back rewards. Prospective applicants strongly considering either of these cards should read our comprehensive comparison guide.

Robert Harrow

Robert is a Product Manager at ValuePenguin, covering credit cards and credit card processing. He graduated from Hunter College with a B.A. in Physics and a minor in Mathematics.

Comments and Questions

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Info about the following cards: American Express® Gold Card, Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, Hilton Honors Surpass® Credit Card, American Express® Blue Sky, American Express® Green Card, The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, The Plenti® Credit Card from Amex, Blue from American Express®, Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz, Bluebird, Centurion® Card from American Express, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, and Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card has been collected independently by ValuePenguin. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

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