Canada’s 8 best no fee credit cards for 2021

Jordann Brown
by Jordann Brown May 28, 2021 / 2 Comments

Although credit cards with annual fees generally dole out more rewards and higher payouts, there are reasons why picking up a fee-based credit card might not make financial sense (like if you’re a student or on a tight budget and won’t spend enough to offset the fee).

The good news is there are several no fee credit cards that deliver great value through cash back, travel rewards, low interest rates, or no foreign transaction fees, despite the fact they’re free to carry.

If you can’t justify paying an annual fee, check out our picks of the  best no fee credit cards in Canada that made the cut for 2021.

The best no fee credit cards in Canada for 2021

Credit Card Best No Fee Card For Card Details
SimplyCash from American Express (VIEW) Flat-Rate Cash Back
  • 1.25% on all purchases
Tangerine Money-Back Card (VIEW) Cash Back
  • 2% in up to 3 categories; 0.5% on everything else
MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard (VIEW) Travel Points
  • 2 points per $1 on gas, groceries & dining*
  • 1 point per $1 on everything else
MBNA True Line® Mastercard® (VIEW) Low Interest
  • 12.99% APR on purchases
BRIM Mastercard (VIEW) No FX Fees
  • No FX fees
  • 1% on everyday purchases
  • 3% on eligible airlines
  • +3% on partner retailers
BMO CashBack Mastercard (VIEW) Students
  • Up to 3% cash back on groceries
PC Financial World Elite (VIEW) Store Credit
  • 45 PC Points per $1 at Shoppers Drug Mart
  • 30 PC Points per $1 at Loblaws-banner stores
  • 30 PC Points per $1 at Esso/Mobil
Triangle Mastercard (VIEW) Store Credit
  • 4% at Canadian Tire
  • 4% at Sport Chek, Mark’s, and Atmosphere
  • Up to 1.5% at grocery stores
Can’t choose? Find the right card for you here.

*$5,000 annual cap on each category

Best no fee flat-rate cash back credit card

Winner: SimplyCash Card from American Express

  • No annual fee
  • Welcome offer: Earn 4% cash back on your purchases for the first 6 months (up to $200)
  • Earn 1.25% cash back on all purchases once welcome rate ends
  • Income required: None specified

The SimplyCash from American Express is an excellent no fee cash back credit card, offering an accelerated 1.25% on everything you buy. That beats the 0.5% to 1% in rewards most no fee credit cards earn on otherwise generic purchases that don’t fall under conventional bonus categories (think online shopping, electronics, clothing, and more). For the first three months, new cardholders will earn 4% cash back on all purchases (up to $200).

Cash back is redeemed once every calendar year in September as a statement credit.

Why we like it:

While most welcome offers on no fee credit cards cap at around $100, this card’s offer maxes out at an impressive $150. Plus, once the welcome period ends, there’s no limit to the amount of cash back you earn and you’ll get a strong 1.25% on everything from groceries and gas to online shopping, food deliveries, bill payments, and more. The flat cash back rate makes it easy to understand your rewards and means you won’t have to think about or strategize how to best maximize your bonus categories. The card also offers access to AMEX’s entertainment perks (more on that below).

Additional perks:

All AMEX cardholders receive access to pre-sale tickets and reserved seats for concerts, movie screenings, and culinary events, plus other special offers through American Express Invites. This card also offers extended warranty protection (doubles manufacturer’s warranty) and, even though it’s a no fee cashback card, includes $100,000 in travel accident insurance.

Best no fee cash back credit card

Winner: Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2% cash back on purchases in up to three categories of your choice
  • Get 0.5% cash back on all other purchases
  • Income required: $12,000

The Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card gives you 2% cash back in two spending categories of your choice (from a total of 10 options), and 0.5% on all other purchases. If you choose to deposit your cash back rewards in a Tangerine savings account, you’ll get a third bonus category earning 2% cash back.

Your bonus category options include: groceries, restaurants, gas, drugstores, entertainment, furniture, motel-hotel, recurring bills, home improvement, and public transportation (which includes parking, taxis and rideshares like Uber).

Why we like it:

This highly customizable card makes it easy to earn cash back in the areas where you spend the most, and at 2%, it offers among the highest return on bonus categories of any no fee credit card. There’s no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards are refunded monthly (for most cards, it’s annually) as either a credit on your account statement or a deposit in your Tangerine savings account. You can even change your 2% bonus categories at any time, though it’ll take at least one statement period for the updates to come into effect.

Additional perks:

While this card is lacking in terms of insurance coverage, free supplementary cards are available for authorized users and new cardholders can receive a promotional balance transfer rate of 1.95% for the first six months. If you have an annual income of at least $60,000, as part of the application process, you’ll be referred to the higher-tier Tangerine World Mastercard which does offer rental car and mobile device coverage.

Best no fee travel credit card

Winner: MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2 points per $1 on gas, groceries and restaurant purchases ($5,000 annual cap on each category)
  • For the first 90 days, earn 4 points per $1 spent on the three bonus categories mentioned above
  • Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other eligible purchases
  • Welcome offer: Get up to 10,000 bonus points
  • Income required: None specified

For your first 90 days, the MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard will earn you a whopping 4 MBNA points for every dollar you spend on gas, groceries and restaurants. After that, you’ll get 2 points per dollar on those same purchases with a $5,000 annual cap on each category. All other purchases earn one point per dollar.

The card also offers two sign-up bonuses: first, you can earn 5,000 points after making $500 in eligible purchases within the initial 90 days of opening your account. Second, you’ll receive another 5,000 bonus points when you switch to e-statements within your first 90 days (conditions apply on both bonus offers). The value of 1 MBNA point is 1 cent when redeemed for travel (the equivalent of 1%) or 0.85-0.98 cents when redeemed for a range of e-gift cards.

Why we like it:

The ability to pocket four times the points on bonus categories in your first 90 days and the additional 10,000-point welcome offer is great value for a card that charges no annual fee. MBNA Rewards points are also flexible and can be redeemed for travel on virtually any airline (including taxes and fees), brand-name merchandise, gift cards from participating retailers, cash back, and charitable donations.

Additional perks:

The card includes a suite of travel insurance benefits, including common carrier coverage, baggage loss/baggage delay assistance, and car rental collision/loss damage waiver insurance.

Best no fee card for low interest

Winner: MBNA True Line® Mastercard®

  • No annual fee
  • Standard annual interest rate of 12.99% on purchases and balance transfers
  • 24.99% interest rate on cash advances
  • Around the clock protection against fraudulent charges
  • Note: This offer is not available for residents of Quebec

The MBNA True Line Mastercard has a fixed APR of 12.99% on purchases, which is among the lowest fixed interest rate on the market for a no fee credit card in Canada.

Why we like it:

It packs a double punch of having a low interest rate on purchases (with an APR that’s 7% lower than what’s found on the typical credit card) while charging no annual fee – also making it a great back up card to use in case of emergencies when you suspect you’ll carry a balance.

Additional perks:

Fraud protection and 24/7 customer service.

Best no fee card with no foreign transaction fee

Winner: BRIM Mastercard

  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 1% on everyday purchases
  • Earn bonus rewards (3% or more) at over 200 partner merchants from Nike and Microsoft to Emirates airlines, and more

True no foreign transaction fee (FX) credit cards are already hard to come by in Canada, but it’s even rarer for a no FX card to also charge no annual fees. Enter the BRIM Mastercard.

With BRIM, you won’t pay the extra 2.5% (on top of the exchange rate) that’s tacked onto almost all other credit cards when making a purchase in a foreign currency – whether you’re spending abroad or shopping online. Plus, you’ll earn at least 1% back on all your everyday purchases.

The BRIM Mastercard technically earns points, but it effectively functions as a cash back card. 100 points can be redeemed for $1 in cash credits, or 1 point is worth 1 cent.

As an entry-level Mastercard, you won’t need to meet any specific income requirements to qualify. BRIM’s intuitive banking app also makes it easy to track your spending and rewards, or access bonus earn rates when shopping at select retailers that have partnered with BRIM, like Nike or Emirates Airlines.

Why we like it:

Aside from the obvious – its lack of foreign transaction fees on all international currencies (not just USD) – the BRIM Mastercard offers some seriously impressive perks.

The card lets you rack up bonus rewards at over two hundred merchants – with the opportunity to pocket up to 4% at Microsoft and Nike, as well as up to 3% on airlines like Lufthansa and Emirates. Cardholders will also get complimentary mobile device insurance on newly-purchased cell phones and a Boingo membership to access Wi-Fi for free at countless wireless hotspots across the globe. And there’s also BRIM’s unique Flexible Payments program, which gives you the ability to pay off purchases gradually over time while charging a flat convenience fee instead of double-digit interest rates that compound every month.

Additional perks:
The card includes a membership to Boingo Wi-Fi, Common Carrier Accident Insurance and up to $500 in mobile device insurance.

Best no fee student credit card

Winner: BMO CashBack Mastercard

  • No annual fee
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 5% cash back on all purchases (up to $100) for the first 3 months
  • 3% cash back on groceries and 1% on recurring bills ($500 monthly cap on each category)
  • 0.5% cash back on everything else

As a student looking to pick up your first credit card, you’ll want to avoid annual fees. But you’ll also need to find a card whose approval requirements are easy to meet. Enter the BMO CashBack Mastercard. It has no income requirement, great rewards on essential purchases (like groceries and recurring bills), and will earn you 0.5% on everything else.

One thing to keep in mind is the card’s two bonus categories – groceries and recurring bills – each have $500 monthly spending caps. For example, you’ll earn 3% on your initial $500 in grocery purchases within a 30-day period but 0.5% on any purchases beyond that amount. The silver lining is these caps will refresh at the start of every new monthly billing cycle. If you do get this card, you’ll want to get acquainted with when exactly your card’s monthly billing cycle starts and ends (it’s likely not going to be the 1st and 30th of every month).

Why we like it:

An excellent starter card, the BMO CashBack Mastercard mostly keeps things simple. There’s no complicated points programs, no income requirements, and it offers the richest rewards on groceries of any no fee card out there. That means students can focus on what’s really important: establishing their credit history and racking up savings when buying household essentials. Yes, the card’s bonus categories are capped, but at $500 per month, they’ll be hard to max out, especially for anyone on a student budget. Another great feature is you can redeem cash back rewards at any time from as little as $1.

The card’s welcome offer of 5% on the first three months of purchases is also impressive considering it’s just an entry-level credit card and can help students further boost their savings.

Additional perks:

This card includes automatic extended warranties (which can come in handy when buying must-have tech for school, like a laptop or computer monitor), purchase protection, and discounts on select car rentals to help save on road trips back home.

Best no fee store credit cards

Winner: PC Financial World Elite Mastercard

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 45 PC Optimum Points per $1 spent at Shoppers Drug Mart / Pharmaprix
  • Earn 30 PC Optimum Points per $1 spent where President’s Choice products are sold
  • Earn 10 PC Optimum Points per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Income required: $80,000 (or $150,000 as a household)

The PC Financial World Elite Mastercard is the most premium version of President’s Choice portfolio of no fee rewards credit cards. And thanks to its partnerships with some of Canada’s largest supermarket chains (Loblaws), pharmacy brands (Shoppers Drug Mart), and gas stations (Esso/Mobil), it’s arguably one of the best no fee credit cards for everyday essentials.

You’ll earn 45 PC Optimum points for every dollar spent at Shoppers Drug Mart, 30 points per dollar at participating groceries (including Loblaws-owned stores like No Frills and Real Canadian Superstore, among many others), and 30 points for every litre of gas purchased at Esso/Mobil. All other purchases will earn you 10 points for every dollar spent.

10,000 points can be redeemed for $10 off your grocery and pharmacy purchases at over 2,500 PC affiliated retailers, which means 10 points is like the equivalent of $0.01 (or 1%) in store credit.

Why we like it:

With earn rates of up to 4.5% to 3% per dollar, the PC Financial World Elite is hard to beat if you purchase most of your household essentials from Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws’ network of banner stores, or regularly fill your car’s gas tank at Esso or Mobil stations.

PC Optimum points can be redeemed from Loblaw Cos. Ltd.-owned stores including Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, Zehrs, Joe Fresh, Shoppers Drug Mart, and online at Plus, with the PC Optimum app, you can regularly double dip and earn additional points on your grocery runs with personalized offers and in-store promotions.

It also doesn’t hurt that PC Optimum is an extremely easy-to-understand rewards program with points that are redeemable at over 2,500 locations across Canada.

Additional perks:

The PC Financial World Elite comes with travel emergency medical insurance up to ten days per trip along with rental car damage/loss coverage for 31 days.

Also consider: Triangle Mastercard from Canadian Tire

  • No annual fee
  • Get 4% in Canadian Tire Money at Canadian Tire, Sport Chek, and participating Mark®/L’Équipeur and Atmosphere locations
  • 1.5% on the first $12,000 spent at eligible grocery stores each year
  • 0.5% on everything else
  • Earn 5¢ per litre in Canadian Tire Money at Gas+ and participating Husky locations
  • Income requirement: None specified

Another retail credit card that deserves a spot on this list is the Triangle Mastercard from Canadian Tire.

This no fee card earns an impressive 4% in Canadian Tire Money (CTM) at Canadian Tire, Sport Chek, Mark’s, and Atmosphere locations – which adds up to the equivalent of 4 cents per dollar in store credit on everything from household essentials and clothing to sporting goods and more. As an added bonus, you’ll earn an accelerated 1.5% in CTM at almost all grocery stores and up to 5 cents per litre at Husky and Gas+ stations.

Another great feature of the Triangle Mastercard is its built-in no-fee financing. Eligible purchases of at least $150 can be paid back in monthly installments with no interest (provided you make all your monthly payments on time, of course). Planning on buying a new heating unit, vacuum, or television from Canadian Tire but want the financial wiggle room to pay it back over time? Triangle Mastercard lets you do just that without having to shell out extra in the form of interest.

Why we like it:

Aside from the obvious (it earns quadruple the rewards on everything Canadian Tire and its handful of affiliate stores stocks on their shelves), the card’s no-fee financing option is an undoubtedly great feature. The ability to pay off larger purchases on items with no interest is ideal for households who are on a budget or want to space out payments.

Additional perks:

With Canadian Tire’s Bill Payments feature, you can use the Triangle Mastercard to pay for larger expenses you can’t conventionally pay off with credit (think property taxes, hydro bills, and tuition) and earn rewards in the process. Cardholders will also receive personalized offers and invites to member-only events for opportunities to rack up even more bonus points on eligible purchases.

When getting a no fee credit card is the right move

You’re getting your first credit card

If you’re looking to get your first-ever credit card, there’s a good chance you’re in school or just starting out in your career. If that’s the case, your priority should be to find a credit card that’s easy to get, free to carry, and can help build your credit history – not chase premium rewards or perks on an annual fee card.

With a no fee card, you can focus more of your efforts on paying off your balance every month and managing your spending. Regularly paying off your balance in full can improve your credit score and ensure you avoid racking up any interest charges.

By starting out with a no fee credit card, you can also keep the card active at no cost even if you don’t use it much or decide to upgrade to a more premium credit card down the line.

Finally, it’s worth noting that several credit cards that do charge annual fees come with qualification requirements, like an established credit history, a great credit score, and a minimum income of $60,000 to $80,000 – all or some of which may be out of reach if you’re a student or just entered the job market.

You won’t be using your credit card often

A credit card with an annual fee can pay for itself if you use it frequently enough since they almost always offer more rewards on your spending compared to their no fee alternatives. However, if you rarely use credit and don’t spend a lot in specific bonus categories, you likely won’t earn enough rewards to offset the fee. You typically need to spend at least $500 a month in order for a card with an annual fee to make sense. If you don’t, a no fee card could be a better fit for you.

Elite perks and insurance aren’t top of mind

Many annual fee cards come with great perks that include everything from travel medical insurance and lost-baggage coverage to free hotel upgrades, complimentary airport lounge access, and more. These perks – usually baked into the cost of a card’s annual fee – can offer great value if you use them regularly, especially considering they could cost several hundred dollars more if you had to pay for them out of pocket. That said, if you aren’t a frequent traveller or these types of perks aren’t of interest to you, a card with no annual fee would be a better fit. After all, why pay for perks you won’t be using.

The benefits on a no fee card may be enough

Although credit cards with annual fees generally offer a wider array of perks, most no fee cards still do come with complimentary extended warranties and purchase protection.

Some no fee cards even come with rental car insurance, mobile device insurance, and roadside assistance. Depending on your priorities, those perks may be all you need. Plus, if you’re not an avid traveller, you probably don’t need the additional perks that come with an annual fee rewards card in the first place.

You want to adopt a two-card strategy

In some cases, it makes sense to pair a card with an annual fee with another card that doesn’t have a fee to earn additional rewards.

For instance, if you only use the TD Cash Back Visa Infinite ($120 annual fee) you would earn a strong 3% cash back on groceries but just 1% on your spending at restaurants. However, if you also picked up the no annual fee Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card, you could use the Tangerine Card to earn 2% at restaurants and stick to paying with the TD Card at groceries to earn 3%. By pairing these two cards, you can earn double the rewards when dining out all while not paying any additional annual fees.

Another reason to pick up a second no fee credit card is if you have an American Express Card and need to carry an additional no fee Visa or Mastercard as a backup in case a merchant doesn’t accept Amex. The same holds true if your main credit card is issued by Visa but you regularly shop from Costco, since you may want to consider getting an additional no fee Mastercard credit card to use at the warehouse retailer.

You’re looking for a store card

Many retailers offer a store or co-branded credit card, which are best for frequent shoppers at these stores. These cards come with unique perks, such as the opportunity to earn more points or discounts for using your card. For instance, Triangle Mastercard holders can earn more Canadian Tire Money than regular Triangle Rewards members when they shop at Canadian Tire, Mark’s, or Sport Chek. And people with a PC Financial Mastercard can earn more points at Shoppers Drug Mart, Loblaws, No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, and Esso than regular PC Optimum members. What’s great about most store credit cards (including all those mentioned above) is they don’t charge an annual fee.

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