Canada’s best no annual fee credit cards at a glance
Our methodology: how we choose the best credit cards
Ratehub.ca evaluates the best credit card rewards credit cards by considering overall consumer value and suitability for various types of consumers. Our evaluation methodology incorporates factors such as the card’s annual fee, rewards earning rates, ease-of-use, welcome or promotional offers, approval rates, eligibility criteria, and redemption choices. We have also considered the pros and cons of each card to help you determine which case best suits your financial needs and spending habits.
Do no fee credit cards come with rewards?
Some no annual fee credit cards come with small rewards attached, but they won’t be as substantial as rewards offered by other cards that require an annual fee. In general, no fee cards are geared towards users who are on a tighter budget or don’t use their credit card as often, preferring a simpler card over one with a lot of fancy benefits.
What is the best no fee credit card for students?
A no annual fee credit card is a great option for students looking to apply for their first credit card. Our pick is the BMO CashBack Mastercard, which offers no annual fee as well as 5% cash back on all purchases for the first three months. Find more details in our overview.
What are the benefits of a no fee credit card?
With a no fee card, you will often receive smaller rewards and perks, but won't have to pay an annual fee. If you’re on a strict budget, a student, or someone who doesn’t use their card frequently enough to justify paying an annual fee for high-end rewards and bonuses, a no fee credit card might be the right choice for you. As long as you use your card moderately and pay your bills on time, a no fee card is an excellent choice for a casual card user.
What is the best no fee cash back card?
Our pick for the best no fee cash back card is the Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card, thanks to its impressive cash back rate and flexibility. While other cash back cards may save you money in specific categories, only the Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card allows you to choose up to three categories from a wide variety of options, giving you more freedom to save in areas where you spend the most.
What's the difference between no fee cards and “first-year free” cards
“First-year free” cards typically offer a waived or rebated annual fee for the first year as part of a signup promotion. With these cards, once the promotional period ends, you’ll be expected to pay their full annual fee each year going forward.
No annual fee cards, on the other hand, do not carry an annual fee for the duration of your ownership. While you may not enjoy the same signup bonuses and perks as “first-year free” cards, you’ll have the peace of mind of never being charged an annual fee for your card.
Can anyone get a no fee card?
While no fee cards are usually easier to be approved for than higher-tier rewards cards (which carry annual fees), that doesn’t mean that anyone can be instantly approved.
For some no fee credit cards, applications are still subject to a hard credit check, so having a less-than-stellar score could affect your chances of approval. Other no fee cards (such as the Tangerine World Mastercard) come with a minimum income requirement, meaning you must make a set amount of income per year to qualify.
- Best no fee cash back credit card: Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
- Honourable mention for best no fee cash back credit card: SimplyCash from American Express
- Best no fee credit card for travel rewards: American Express Green Card
- Best no fee credit card with low interest: MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard
- Best no fee credit card for students: BMO CashBack Mastercard - Student
- Best no fee credit card for store credit: PC Financial World Elite Mastercard
- Best no fee credit card for U.S. shopping: Rogers World Elite Mastercard
When should you get a no fee credit card?
1. You’re getting your first credit card
If you’re applying for your first-ever credit card, chances are you’re a student or just starting out in your career. In this case, your priority should be to find a credit card that’s easy to get, doesn't have an annual fee, and helps build your credit history. A "free" credit card would be your best option.
Opting for a no fee card with a low APR (interest rate) might be a wise choice, especially if you're concerned with accruing debt. With a lower interest rate, you not only avoid an annual fee, but also increase your chances of paying off your bill in full every month and staying out of debt.
Starting out with a no fee credit card allows you to keep the card active without any cost, even if you don't use it frequently or plan to upgrade to a more premium credit card later on.
It’s worth noting that several credit cards with annual fees require qualifications like an established credit history, a great credit score, and a minimum income of $60,000 to $80,000, which may be difficult to meet for students or those new to the job market.
2. 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, it can often be worth it to pay a yearly charge in return for all the savings and benefits you'll receive. 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, leaving you to pay extra to use a card that isn't giving you much in return. 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.
3. Elite perks and insurance aren’t a priority
Many credit cards with annual fees come with attractive perks, including travel medical insurance, lost-baggage coverage, free hotel upgrades, and complimentary airport lounge access. These perks, which are typically included in the card’s annual fee, can provide significant value if you use them regularly. However, if you're not a frequent traveller or these perks don't interest you, a card with no annual fee would be a better fit. After all, why pay for perks you won’t use?
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.
4. You want to adopt a two-card strategy
In some cases, it makes sense to pair a card with an annual fee with another no fee card to earn additional rewards.
For example, if you have the TD Cash Back Visa Infinite ($139 annual fee) you can earn a generous 3% cash back on groceries and recurring bill payments but just 1% on restaurants and other purchases. By adding the no annual fee Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card, you can earn 2% cash back at restaurants while continuing to use the TD Card for groceries to earn 3%. This way, you earn double the rewards when dining out without paying any additional annual fees.
Another reason to get a second no fee credit card is if you have an American Express Card and need a backup Visa or Mastercard for merchants that don't accept Amex. The same applies if your main credit card is issued by Visa but you regularly shop from Costco; in that case, having an additional no fee Mastercard credit card for use at the warehouse retailer is beneficial
5. You’re looking for a store card
Many retailers offer store or co-branded credit cards, which are ideal for frequent shoppers at those specific stores. These cards come with unique perks, such as earning more points or receiving discounts for using the card. For example, individuals 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. The best part is that most store credit cards, including the ones mentioned above, do not charge an annual fee.
No fee credit cards: pros and cons
- No annual fees affecting your rewards: While it’s true that no fee cards can't offer the same level of lucrative rewards as cards with annual fees of $120 or more, many still allow you to earn points or cash back. This can result in significant benefits if you use the card frequently and responsibly. With a no fee card, you won't have an annual charge diminishing your rewards and lowering their value. You get to keep 100% of what you earn.
- They’re great for your credit history: Since annual no fee cards are virtually free to own, you won't have to worry whether or not you can afford to keep them. This is advantageous for your credit history because the longer you can maintain a credit card account that is open and in good standing, the better your profile looks to credit bureaus and potential lenders. Just remember to use the card at least once a year to keep it active.
- They’ll save you money: This point may seem obvious, but opting for a no fee rewards card instead of one with an annual fee means one less bill to pay. This can make a significant difference for families or individuals with a fixed income. Access to credit and the ability to build credit should be available to people of all income levels, and annual no fee credit cards help make that possible.
- Not as many benefits: If you're seeking a credit card with tons of extra bells and whistles, a no fee card may not fulfill your expectations. Annual fees are how credit card providers justify offering those attractive perks, so a no fee card will naturally have fewer of them. However, if you're simply looking for an everyday card to help you build credit or earn a little bit of cash back on groceries and gas, this may be less of a concern.
- No travel perks: Those in search of a no fee travel card will find limited options, as additional benefits like travel insurance and airline/hotel rewards typically come with higher annual fees.