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

Updated Mar 08, 2021 | Published May 04, 20207 min read

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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.

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​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.

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.

Bad Credit

Discover it® Secured

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

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

Petal® 2 Cash Back, No Fees Visa® Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR12.99 - 26.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • No fees whatsoever. No late fee, international fee, annual fee, or any-other-kind-of-fee, fee.
  • Up to 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time monthly payments
  • 1% cash back on eligible purchases right away
  • 2% – 10% cash back from select merchants
  • $500 – $10,000 credit limits
  • Variable APRs 12.99% – 26.99%
  • Build credit alongside tens of thousands of Petal Card members
  • Cash flow technology may help applicants without credit history get approved
  • Petal’s mobile app makes it easy to manage your money, track your spending, and automate payments
  • See if you’re pre-approved within minutes without impacting your credit score
  • Petal reports to all 3 major credit bureaus
  • No deposits required
  • Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC

This card is about as fee-free as they come: No annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, no late payment or returned payment fees — nada. The only potential fees are interest charges, if you carry a balance from month to month; and you can easily avoid interest by paying your statement balance in full each month, which would make this card completely free to use.

Cash Back

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

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

securely on the issuer's website

  • 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.

Citi is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

Since this credit card offers a flat 2% cash back on all purchases (1% for purchases, 1% for payments as long as you pay at least the minimum due on time), 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

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR15.49% - 25.49% Variable
  • One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.49%-25.49% variable APR after that
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees

This free card has no annual fee and a 0% APR for 15 months on purchases (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 on purchases (then 14.49% - 24.49%* Variable) and the Wells Fargo Platinum card has a 0% APR for 18 months from account opening (then 16.49%-24.49% Variable).

Balance Transfers

Choice Rewards World Mastercard®

Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR8.25%–18.00% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • 2X points per dollar spent on groceries, gas, electronics, medical, household goods, and telecommunications
  • 20,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 60 days
  • 0% intro balance transfer APR for 12 billing cycles, and then 8.25%–18.00% Variable
  • MasterAssist Insurance, Purchase Assurance, and ShopRunner membership
  • No balance transfer fee, foreign transaction fee, or cash advance fee
  • No annual fee

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 90 days. The interest-free period will last for 12 billing cycles, and then your rate will be 8.25%–18.00% 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 Flex℠

Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.99% - 23.74% Variable

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!)

2021 Comparison: The Chase Freedom Flex vs. the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card

Travel Rewards

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR15.49% - 25.49% Variable
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates and fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Miles won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how many you can earn
  • Transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs
  • Enjoy 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 15.49% – 25.49% variable APR after that

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

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
(Rates & Fees)
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.99% - 23.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • Earn $200 back 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% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits.
  • No annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.

American Express is a Credit Card Insider advertiser.

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 13.99% - 23.99% Variable.

Dining & Entertainment

Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Our rating
Min. credit levelGood
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR15.49% - 25.49% Variable
  • Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.49% – 25.49% variable APR after that
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

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

Our rating
Min. credit levelExcellent
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.24% - 19.24% Variable

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.

Written by

Susan Shain

Susan is a freelance writer who specializes in turning complex financial topics into engaging and accessible articles. She's been writing about personal finance for six years, and was previously the senior writer at The Penny Hoarder and a staff writer at Student Loan Hero. Her personal finance writing has also appeared in publications like MarketWatch and Lifehacker.

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