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What Are Free Credit Cards? And Which Ones Are Best?

7 min read
Susan Shain By Susan Shain Updated May 04, 2020

​Here’s a question we hear a lot: How can I get a “free” credit card?

And here’s our answer: Most credit cards are “free” — if you use them right. That means avoiding credit card fees, such as interest, annual fees, balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, foreign transaction fees, and late or returned payment fees.

So, while we’ll say “free” without quotation marks throughout the rest of the article, just keep that in mind: Credit cards are only free when used a certain way. 

Here’s the lowdown on free credit cards: how to find ’em, how to use ’em, and how to pick the one that’s best for you.

If you’ve already got the basics down and you’re ready to look for a new card, jump to our top picks below.

Best For Credit Card
Bad Credit Discover it® Secured
Limited Credit Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Cash Back Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer
0% Purchase APR Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Balance Transfers Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
Bonus Categories Chase Freedom®
Travel Rewards Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Grocery Rewards Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Dining & Entertainment Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Small Businesses Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card

How to Get Free Credit Cards

Let’s get one thing straight: It usually doesn’t cost money to apply for a credit card. (The majority of cards that charge application fees are targeted at users with bad credit — and even if you fall into that category, there are fee-free alternatives.)

Most credit cards do, however, charge fees for certain features once you’ve been approved.

So, to begin your free credit card journey, you’ll need to first look for a card without an annual feeLuckily, this includes the majority of credit cards. 

Insider tip

If you’re applying for your first credit card, it’s especially important to choose one with no annual fee. Since “average age of accounts” is an important factor in your credit scores, you’ll then be able to keep this card forever — and continue building your credit history at no cost to you.

4 Basic Rules of Free Credit Cards

Although most credit cards don’t charge annual fees, they’ll only be free if you follow certain rules.

Here are a few basic guidelines: 

  1. Pay your bill on time to avoid late fees.
  2. Never withdraw cash from the ATM with your credit card (this comes with “cash advance” fees and begins accruing interest immediately).
  3. Avoid balance transfers, unless they are free of both fees and interest.
  4. Pay your statement balance in full each month to avoid interest charges (if you’re paying off a balance at 0% APR, you can just pay the minimum — more on that below).

These are just the ground rules, of course, as we can’t cover every situation that might trigger fees. (Some cards from small issuers even charge for paper statements or credit limit increases, so you need to read the fine print!)

If you’re just using your card to make everyday purchases, however, following these four guidelines should allow you to embrace the advantages of credit cards without the fees.

Insider tip

If you plan to travel abroad, you should also keep an eye out for foreign transaction fees. These add a ~3% surcharge onto every purchase made in a foreign currency. Here’s a look at the best travel rewards cards, most of which charge no foreign transaction fees.

The Key to Free Credit Cards: Avoiding Interest

That last rule, which is particularly important, can be a little bit confusing. Here’s what we mean.

When you make a purchase on a credit card, you’re borrowing money from the credit card issuer. (That’s what makes credit cards different from debit cards; when you use the latter, you’re spending your own money.)

As with any loan, credit card issuers charge interest on the money you borrow. In credit card speak, your interest rate is known as your “APR” (annual percentage rate) and it’s usually in the neighborhood of 16%.

That’s high — and if you let your purchases accrue interest, your credit card will most definitely not be free. But the cool thing is most credit cards come with a “grace period” during which they don’t charge any interest.

In most cases, as long as you pay your full statement balance by the due date, you won’t owe any interest on your purchases. And that, my friends, is how you get a truly free credit card! 

Read more

How to Avoid Paying Interest on Credit Cards

2 Special Types of Free Credit Cards

With the vast majority of credit cards, you must pay your statement balance in full — each and every month — to avoid interest. But there are two exceptions.

0% Intro APR Cards

When a credit card advertises a “0% intro purchase APR,” you won’t pay any interest on your purchases for a certain period — usually 12–18 months. 

Let’s say you need a new water heater, but can’t afford one quite yet. While it’s generally best to wait until you can pay for an item in full, we know that’s not always possible.

In that situation, you could apply for a credit card that has no annual fee and a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months. If you get approved, you could charge the $800 water heater to the card, and then pay $100 of the bill each month. In eight months, you’d pay it off — having borrowed $800 without any fees.

Insider tip

You’ll usually need to have good credit or excellent credit to qualify for a 0% APR card, although approval relies on more than just credit scores. If you don’t know your creditworthiness, you should check your credit reports and get your free credit scores from FICO. Furthermore, you should only pursue this strategy if you’re sure you can pay off the purchase before the 0% intro period ends, as these cards often have high regular APRs.

Balance Transfer Cards

As far as personal finance strategies go, you can also use free credit cards as a debt consolidation tool. 

If you have multiple credit card balances with high APRs, for example, you might want to apply for a balance transfer card. You can transfer multiple balances to the new card, and then attempt to pay off the debts before the card’s 0% balance transfer APR ends. (Here’s more on how balance transfers work.)

Note that, if you transfer and carry a balance from month to month, you will lose your grace period on new purchases. In other words, any new purchases will begin accruing interest as soon as you make them (unless your card comes with a 0% purchase APR, too).

If you’re going to get a balance transfer card, we recommend using it only for balance transfers — and putting everyday purchases on a separate card that has an interest-free grace period.

Although many balance transfer cards come with fees, you can find free cards with no balance transfer fees, no annual fees, and 0% balance transfer APRs. In fact, we’ll share one below.

The Best Free Credit Cards for Every Need

Ready to apply for a free credit card? Here are some of our favorite no annual fee credit cards for every type of user.

But remember: Aside from the special scenarios mentioned above, the only way most of these cards will be free is if you follow the four basic rules, including paying your statement balance on time and in full.

Best For Credit Card
Bad Credit Discover it® Secured
Limited Credit Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®
Cash Back Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer
0% Purchase APR Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Balance Transfers Amex EveryDay® Credit Card
Bonus Categories Chase Freedom®
Travel Rewards Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Grocery Rewards Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Dining & Entertainment Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card
Small Businesses Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card

Bad Credit

Discover it® Secured

Discover it® Secured

Our rating
Min. credit levelBad
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APRSee Terms

The information related to Discover it® Secured has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

This is a fantastic free secured credit card for people with bad credit. We love it because of its rewards: 2% cash back on gas and dining (up to $1,000 in combined spending per quarter). Discover will even double your cash back earnings at the end of your first year. Just note you’ll have to pay an upfront security deposit that serves as your credit line — which Discover can keep if you don’t pay your bills. Without a doubt, though, we’d say it’s one of the best credit cards for rebuilding your credit.

Limited Credit

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Our rating
Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR25.99%–26.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

The information related to Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Though it’s branded as a “student card,” anyone can apply for this card from Capital One. You’ll earn 1% cash back on your everyday purchases, boosted to 1.25% when you make your monthly payments on time. Not bad for a starter credit card!

Cash Back

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Our rating
Min. credit levelExcellent
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn cash back twice. Earn 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • To earn cash back, pay at least the minimum due on time.
  • Balance Transfer Offer: 0% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.99% – 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back.
  • If you transfer a balance, interest will be charged on your purchases unless you pay your entire balance (including balance transfers) by the due date each month.
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi’s discretion.

The information related to Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Since this credit card offers a flat 2% cash back on all purchases (1% for purchases, 1% for payments), there’s no need to fuss with any particular bonus categories. For a cash back card without fees, you couldn’t do much better!

0% Purchase APR

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR15.49% - 25.49% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

The information related to Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

This free card has no annual fee and a 0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (then 15.49% - 25.49% Variable). We picked it because it earns cash back rewards — and because you’ll get an introductory bonus if you spend a minimal amount soon after account opening.

If you need a longer interest-free term, the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has a 0% APR for 20 billing cycles (then 14.99%–24.99% Variable) and the Wells Fargo Platinum card has a 0% APR for 18 months (then 15.49%-24.99% Variable).

Balance Transfers

Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.99%–24.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable rate, currently 14.99%–25.99%.
  • $0 balance transfer fee. Balance transfers must be requested within 60 days from account opening.
  • 2x points at US supermarkets, on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1x); 1x points on other purchases.
  • Use your Card 20 or more times on purchases in a billing period and earn 20% more points on those purchases less returns and credits.
  • Over 1.5 million more places in the U.S. started accepting American Express® Cards in 2017.
  • No annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.

The information related to Amex EveryDay® Credit Card has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

This card’s balance transfer offer is totally free: You won’t pay any transfer fees, and there’s no interest on balances transferred in the first 60 days. The interest-free period will last for 15 months, and then your rate will be 13.99%–24.99% Variable. If you’re looking for a free credit card to help you pay off debt, this is a smart choice.

Bonus Categories

Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR16.49% - 25.24% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • 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
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 – 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
  • 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℠

If you get a thrill from maxing out your points, this reward card’s for you. It earns 5% cash back in rotating quarterly bonus categories like gas stations, drug stores, grocery stores, department stores, rideshares (Lyft), and streaming services. To max out your earning each quarter, you can consider buying gift cards for purchases you’ll make later. (Just make sure it’s money you would’ve spent anyway!)

Travel Rewards

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.49% - 24.49% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

The information related to Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Looking for a free travel credit card? This one’s the real deal. It earns 1.25X miles per dollar, with a decent intro offer for bonus miles. Best of all, its rewards program allows you to transfer those miles directly to 15+ hotel and airline partners.

Grocery Rewards

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
(Rates & Fees)
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR12.99–23.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%).
  • 2% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores, 1% back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, currently 12.99% to 23.99%.
  • Don’t wait for your Card in the mail. Start earning cash back before your card even arrives, if eligible for Instant Card Number.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits.
  • No annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

American Express is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

The information related to Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

With high rewards at U.S. supermarkets and gas stations, plus a nice introductory bonus for a low minimum spend, this is a great choice for people seeking a free credit card for groceries. PS: It also offers a 0% APR intro period for 15 months if you’re trying to kill two birds with one stone!

Take note that your U.S. supermarket bonus category is limited to the first $6,000 spent per year. And after your intro rate runs out, the regular APR will be 12.99–23.99% Variable.

Dining & Entertainment

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR15.49% - 25.49% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

The information related to Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

With solid rewards on dining, entertainment, and groceries, this free card holds a lot of appeal for people who savor life. (Get it?) Its introductory bonus isn’t too shabby, either.

Small Businesses

Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card

Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelExcellent
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.74% - 20.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
  • Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • No Annual Fee

When it comes to free business credit cards, this one’s the cream of the crop. It earns serious rewards, like 5% back on your cell phone and internet bills, and comes with a bunch of upgraded perks, like primary car rental insurance when renting for business purposes. You’ll earn Ultimate Rewards, a valuable points currency that can be transferred to more than a dozen airline and hotel partners. Did we mention there’s a hefty introductory bonus, too?

What You Should Remember About Free Credit Cards

As you can see, there are some incredible free credit cards out there: cards that offer ample cash back rewards, a generous signup bonus, cool perks, or all of the above.

But you need to remember the four rules, including the fact that most cards will only be free if you pay your statement balance in full, and on time, each and every month.

As long as you’re able to do that, you’ll unlock the magical world of free credit cards and their abundant rewards.

Best No Annual Fee Credit Cards

Check 'em out
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For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, please click here.

At a glance

Credit cards don’t have to cost money — in fact, they can be totally free. In most cases, all you need to do is choose one without an annual fee and pay your statement balance in full every month.

Credit Card Insider receives compensation from advertisers whose products may be mentioned on this page. Advertiser relationships do not affect card evaluations. Advertising partners do not edit or endorse our editorial content. Content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when it's published. Learn more in our Editorial Guidelines.

The information related to Discover it® Secured, Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer, Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, Amex EveryDay® Credit Card, Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, and Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card have been collected by Credit Card Insider and have not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of these products.

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