2 credit cards with low fees

Young woman smiling as she looks at her phone and learns about credit cards with low feesImage: Young woman smiling as she looks at her phone and learns about credit cards with low fees

In a Nutshell

Low-fee credit cards can minimize expenses — and you don't always have to give up rewards or a 0% introductory APR.

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At a glance: 2 credit cards with low fees

1.5% cash back on every eligible purchase Navy Federal Credit Union cashRewards Credit Card
Rotating rewards categories Discover it® Cash Back

While a no-fee credit card would certainly be nice, you’ll find more options if you set your sights on credit cards with low fees.

“Finding a credit card with absolutely no fees at all is like spotting a unicorn — you’re going to have a tough time,” says Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

That’s why McClary recommends finding a great low-fee credit card and then thinking about how you’re going to use that card.

By using your card responsibly and paying off your balance in full each month, you should be able to avoid the most common credit card fees.

Of course, one no-brainer fee you’ll want to look for right off the bat is the annual fee. If avoiding fees ranks among your highest priorities, consider narrowing your search to cards that don’t charge an annual fee.

This may cut out a few of the highest rewards earners, but what you lose in points or miles you’ll gain in peace of mind.

From there, you can specifically target cards with more forgiving late fees, balance transfer fees, cash advance fees … the list goes on. Just make sure you consider your spending habits and lifestyle before settling on a card.

The fact that a card has no foreign transaction fee, for example, likely won’t matter if you rarely travel abroad or make purchases in foreign currencies.

With that in mind, we’ve picked out five cards you may want to consider if you’re looking for credit cards with low fees.

Navy Federal Credit Union cashRewards Credit Card

Who’s it for?

To qualify for this card, you need to be a Navy Federal Credit Union member.

You’re eligible if you’re an active duty member of any branch of the armed forces or National Guard, a military veteran or retiree, a U.S. Department of Defense employee or affiliate or an immediate family member.

Why we like it

This card has no annual fee, no balance transfer fee and no foreign transaction fee. It also has a simple, easy-to-navigate rewards program that earns you 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases.

While this card does have a penalty APR of 18%, it doesn’t kick in unless your payment is more than 60 days past due or if you make a payment that’s returned and causes your account to be over 60 days past due — things you’ll always want to avoid anyway.

The regular purchase and balance transfer variable APR is a reasonable 11.15% to 18% based on your creditworthiness and other factors.

Watch out for

Rewards cards like this one will typically only benefit you in the long run if you can pay off your balance in full every month. Otherwise, you risk spending more on interest than you collect in rewards.

How to use it

To get the most out of this rewards card, use it for everyday purchases and pay off your balance in full and on time. Since you’ll earn a flat rate of 1.5% cash back on eligible purchases, you don’t need to plan your spending around specific rewards categories.

Discover it® Cash Back

Who’s it for?

This one’s for the savvy shopper who wants to earn cash back on everything.

Why we like it

There’s a lot to like here, including a $0 annual fee, no penalty rate and no fee for your first late payment (after that, you could be charged up to $40). And foreign transaction fees? None.

If you can put some extra legwork into your rewards, this card can pay dividends. It offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter you activate in rotating categories like restaurants, gas stations and sites like Amazon.com. Once you hit that quarterly cap, you’ll earn 1% back.

You’ll also earn 1% for purchases outside of the bonus categories. You’ll have to activate each category to benefit from the 5% cash back; otherwise, you’ll earn a flat rate of 1% cash back on every purchase.

Watch out for

Discover it® Cash Back doesn’t have a penalty APR, and you’ll get a free pass on your first late payment. Just don’t make a habit out of paying late, because after the first time, late payments may cost up to $40. They may also hurt your credit.

How to use it

It’s a great around-town card to use for gas, groceries, shopping and restaurants — just be sure to activate your bonus category for each quarter.

Discover automatically matches all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, so this can be a great card to use if you have some large purchases in the right categories coming up within the next 12 months.

With no foreign transaction fee, Discover it® Cash Back is also good for travel. But if you’re using it outside the U.S., do a little research to make sure it’s accepted at the locations and venues where you plan to use it.

Bottom line

There’s a lot to consider when you’re searching for credit cards with low fees.

One tip to make it easier: If you pay off your balance in full and on time every month, you can avoid paying interest.

And if you already have a credit card you like, you may be able to negotiate the fees that are most important to you, McClary says.

But, just like shopping for a new card, it all comes down to the quality of your credit. “The [better] your credit,” he says, “the better position you’re in to be successful in negotiating a better deal.”

About the author: Dana Dratch is a personal finance writer (and coffee fanatic). She covers credit, money and lifestyle issues. Read more.