5 credit cards with low fees

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In a Nutshell

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

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These offers are no longer available on our site: PenFed Promise Card, Chase Slate®

At a glance: Credit cards with low fees

Low fees across the board PenFed Promise Card
1.5% cash back on every eligible purchase Navy Federal Credit Union cashRewards Credit Card
Rotating rewards categories Discover it®
Great for balance transfers

Chase Slate®

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, spokesman 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.

PenFed Promise Visa® Card

Who’s it for?

Members of Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed). PenFed membership is available to the following groups:

  • Active or retired members of the U.S. military or uniformed services
  • Employees of the U.S. government
  • Members or employees of a qualifying organization
  • You live or work at an eligible location
  • You’re a relative or housemate of someone who’s eligible.

Membership is also available to members of groups such as the National Military Family Association and Voices for America’s Troops, both of which are open to the general public.

Why we like it

The best features of this card are what it doesn’t have. And it’s a long list:

  • No annual fee
  • No late fees
  • No balance transfer fees
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No cash advance fees
  • No penalty annual percentage rate (APR) if you’re late with a payment

As if that weren’t enough, this card sports a regular variable APR of 10.99% to 17.99% for purchases and cash advances when you open your account, based on your creditworthiness.

What's a penalty APR?

Watch out for

If you have good credit, there are probably better balance transfer cards out there. With this card, if you make a balance transfer between Apr. 1, 2018 and Sep. 30, 2018, you’ll qualify for a 4.99 percent promotional rate for 12 months (it then reverts to the regular variable APR, see above).

But many other cards come with great 0 percent intro APR offers that may save you more in the short term. Another thing to look out for: PenFed can end the promotional rate on balance transfers if you’re 60 days late with a payment.

How to use it

This is a great all-purpose, low-fee card. Use it responsibly, and you might not have to pay a card fee again.

This card also comes with a pretty impressive sign-up bonus: Spend $1,500 on purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account and you’ll get a $100 statement credit.

If you can do so without stretching your budget, make sure you spend enough within that window to qualify for this bonus.

Navy Federal Credit Union cash Rewards Credit Card

Who’s it for?

Anyone who wants a low-fee credit card with a side of rewards. 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 of either group.

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 percent cash back on eligible purchases.

While this card does have a penalty APR of 18 percent, 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 percent cash back on eligible purchases, you don’t need to plan your spending around specific rewards categories.

Discover it®

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 no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, no penalty rate and no fee for your first late payment.

This card also comes with a 0 percent intro APR on purchases for 14 months from the date of account opening and a similar offer for balance transfers: 14 months from the date of your first balance transfer.

After the intro APR expires, your variable APR on both purchases and balance transfers will be 13.49% to 24.49%, depending on your creditworthiness and other factors. (Note: Balance transfers under this offer must post to your account by Jul 10, 2018.)

If you can put some extra legwork into your rewards, this card can pay dividends. It offers 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 per quarter (then 1 percent) in rotating categories like restaurants, wholesale clubs and sites like Amazon.com.

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

Watch out for

Discover it® 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 $37. They may also hurt your credit.

One more thing to look out for: While the 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers is attractive, there’s a 3 percent fee that applies to each transfer.

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 coming up within the next 12 months.

With no foreign transaction fee, Discover it® 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.

Chase Slate®

From our partner

Chase Slate®

From cardholders in the last year

Who’s it for?

If you have — or anticipate — a hefty balance and need time to pay it off, this could be your card.

Why we like it

Chase Slate® has a $0 annual fee, no penalty APR, and a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months from account opening (16.49% - 25.24% variable APR after that).

It also has no fee on balance transfers completed within 60 days of account opening. After that, there’s a fee of 5% or $5 minimum of the amount transferred.

Because you can avoid interest on your purchases or balance transfers during the introductory period, your payments can cover more of the principal balance. Credit card interest rates can really eat into your budget, so taking advantage of a 0 percent intro APR can be a wise decision if you’re ready to get out of debt for good.

Watch out for

This card does charge a 3% foreign transaction fee. So if you’re shopping overseas or in a foreign currency, this might be the one to leave in your wallet.

You’ll also want to get those balance transfers done quickly. After the 60-day intro period, balance transfer fees increase to 5% or $5 minimum of the amount of each transfer.

How to use it

Draft a payoff plan. After the first 15 months, the 0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers will jump to a variable APR between 16.49% - 25.24%, depending on your creditworthiness and other factors. That’s when you want to switch over to paying off those balances in full every month, if you haven’t already.

Bottom line

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

One tip to make it easier: Unless you’re transferring a balance — or carrying one regularly, which we don’t recommend — don’t worry too much about the APR. 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.”