Can anyone who wants to save money resist free?
The billion dollar points and reward industry is built on free. So are billion dollar tech companies offering free premium services (hi Facebook)...
...And credit cards with decent rewards for a $0 annual fee are equally hard to resist.
For me, I tolerate the fees that come with premium cash back credit cards – because I pocket net positive rewards even after I take the fee out of the equation. (Not to mention the other perks I get as well.)
But, there are also times when it might be better to go with a no annual fee credit card, for example:
- You mostly use debit or cash for purchases.
- You spend less than $1,500 per month on your card and simple math shows that the cash back you would earn will NOT cover the fees you have to pay.
- You worry if you would overspend to make up for having a card with an annual fee.
- You're looking for a no fee Mastercard or Visa to pair with your premium Amex card (so you're covered in acceptance all around).
- You just can't stand paying hefty fees.
If one of these is you, then the question becomes: which no fee card is best?
Best Cash Back Credit Cards With No Annual Fee
To produce these rankings, 30 cash back credit cards with NO annual fee were compared. I've listed the top 9 in the table below from highest to lowest ranked.
Cards that aren't strictly cash back cards have also been included to increase your options. These cards allow you to convert your points to cash, statement credits, or investments in some way.
The table scrolls horizontally using the slider at the bottom.
|Apply||SimplyCash Card from American Express|
|Apply||MBNA Rewards Mastercard|
|Apply||MBNA Canadian Western Bank Rewards Mastercard|
|Apply||Rogers Platinum Mastercard|
|Apply||Rogers Fido Mastercard|
|Apply||Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card|
|Apply||BMO CashBack Mastercard|
|Apply||BMO SPC CashBack Mastercard|
|Apply||Scotiabank American Express|
|Apply||National Bank Echo Cashback Mastercard|
|Overall Score||Cash On $25,000 Spend1||Cash On $100K Spend2||Sign Up Bonus Value3||Insurance Score||Perks Score|
1. $25,000 in annual spending works out to $2,083 in monthly spending which is achievable for a typical Canadian family funneling most of their spending through their credit card. The cash back shown is calculated by splitting spending sensibly across spending categories like groceries, gas, drugstore, travel, bills, and everyday spending. All spending bonuses, tiers, limits, and caps are taken into account in these calculations. Sign up bonuses are NOT included in these numbers, so that will be an extra perk for you.
2. $100,000 in annual spending works out to $8,333 in monthly spending which is too high for most families. I have included these numbers to better evaluate cards and give an advantage to cards who don't have spending caps or limits. It also allows cards that have a good tier system to shine at higher spending levels. The cash back shown is calculated by splitting spending sensibly across spending categories like groceries, gas, drugstore, travel, bills, and everyday spending. All spending bonuses, tiers, limits, and caps are taken into account in these calculations. Sign up bonuses are NOT included in these numbers, so that will be an extra perk for you.
3. The sign up bonus value is the maximum possible dollar value you can get from the bonus if you take full advantage of it. So, with a 5% gas and grocery bonus for 6 months with a $250 cap - $250 would be the value.
The Top 3 In Detail
1) SimplyCash Card from American Express
One of the best parts of the SimplyCash Card from American Express is that it’s simple: you get 1.25% cash back on ALL your purchases, no caps or limits. That's the highest earning rate on all purchases of any no fee cash back card with no limits.
Not only does this card have the best return on spending, it also has the best sign up bonus of any no fee card. It will give you a nice 5% bonus on gas and groceries for the first 6 months you have the card (up to $250 earned). Subtract the 1.25% that you would normally earn with this card, and you’re getting a $188 sign up bonus ‒ which by itself is worth a pause.
Why You Want It:
- 1.25% cash back on ALL purchases – the highest of any no fee card – with no limit on the amount of cash back you can earn.
- 5% bonus cash on gas and groceries for the first 6 months (up to $250 earned).
- $100 referral bonus for any approved referrals you send their way (up to $1,500 annually).
- Exclusive access to Front Of The Line which gives you access to advanced event and concert ticket sales.
- 1.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for the first 6 months.
2) MBNA Rewards Mastercard
The second card on our list is the MBNA Rewards Mastercard, which gives you a straight 1% cash back. Much like the Amex SimplyCash card, this no fee cash back card has no caps, no tiers, and no limit on the amount of cash back you can earn.
Another area where this card really shines, is that it has a much better insurance package than most no fee credit cards usually have. And, despite rewarding you with points, instead of straight cash back, it is extremely flexible in how you can redeem your rewards for cash with none of the usual restrictions.
If you’re looking for a no fee card, with a great insurance package and no reward restrictions, this card is the right choice for you.
Why You Want It:
- 1 point per dollar spent equaling 1% cash back.
- $50 sign up bonus, just for making your first eligible purchase.
- No restrictive caps or complicated tiers on the cash back that you can earn.
- Redeem your points any time you want and any way you want.
- A great insurance package, which includes:
- 90 days purchase protection & 1 year extended warranty,
- 1 Million in travel accident insurance,
- car rental theft and damage coverage, and
- additional car rental accident and personal effects coverage.
3) Canadian Western Bank Rewards Mastercard
Very similar to the MBNA Rewards Mastercard, the Canadian Western Bank Rewards Mastercard gives you 1 point for every dollar spent ‒ which is a 1% return on all spending. Plus, this card also comes with the same insurance package: 7 types of travel and purchase insurance.
One area where this card differs itself from the MBNA Rewards Mastercard, however, is that is gives card holders a lower than average interest rate, at 14.99% annually. The balance transfer rate for this card is lower as well, at only 16.99% and it even has an introductory rate of only 1.99% for the first 10 months.
So, if a low interest rate, great insurance and solid rewards are what you’re looking for ‒ this card is a well-rounded option.
Why You Want It:
- 1% return on all spending – no limits or restrictions.
- 1,000 points after your first eligible purchase, worth $10.
- Redeem your rewards anytime you want, in a number of different ways.
- Low interest rate of only 14.99% on purchases.
- 1.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for the first 10 months.
What's Important To You?
Because earn rates are not the only factor to consider and you may have specific needs when it comes to your no fee credit card, here’s a breakdown of the top cards by popular features to help you choose the one that is the best fit for you.
Maximizing Your Cash
Some credit cards will give you accelerated rewards in certain spending categories, and one great way to get the most money back with no fee cash back cards is to split your spending across multiple cards.
Here’s an idea: The Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card gives you 2% cash back in 2 different spending categories (3 different categories if you have a no fee Tangerine Chequing account), so you could use it for all purchases in the 3 categories you spend the most like groceries, recurring bills, and gas – and you should be able to earn 2% cash back on all those purchases. Then, if you put the rest of your spending on the Simply Cash Card from American Express to earn 1.25% instead of the usual 0.5% ‒ you can maximize your rewards.
With this strategy, you'll earn 2% cash back on your top 3 spending categories while getting an increased 1.25% cash on the rest of your purchases. When Amex isn't accepted, you can simply fall back to your Mastercard as a backup.
Very Specific Spending Habits
If you spend most of your monthly budget at a few certain stores, then the Tangerine Money-Back Credit could be your go-to card, once again. And one of the best things about this card is that even if your spending habits change, you can change your chosen spending categories as your habits change.
Low Income Requirements
One of the nice things about no fee cards is that you often don’t need high personal incomes to qualify for them. In fact, the number one card on our list, the SimplyCash from American Express, has no minimum requirement at all.
And the second best card, the MBNA Rewards Mastercard only requires $35,000 annually.
Get Paid When And How You Want
If flexibility is what you’re looking for, then any card from MBNA can't be beat, including both the MBNA Rewards Mastercard and the Canadian Western Bank Rewards Mastercard. These cards allow you to redeem your cash any way you want:
- statement credit,
- direct deposit,
- charity donation,
- travel redemption,
- gift cards, and
You can also redeem as often as you want for as much as you want. There is a $50 minimum, but at 1 point for every dollar spent, with no limits or caps, you'll get there in no time.
Many other cards only allow you to redeem your rewards as a statement credit and it’s usually only once per year in a specific month. It’s almost as if your credit card holds your cash hostage for a year, and when you finally get it, it kinda disappears amongst the purchases you already made, not nearly as fun as getting to choose when and how you want it.
Great Insurance And Perks
The MBNA Rewards Mastercard is, again, another card that comes with great coverage for a no fee card with 7 types of purchase and travel insurance included:
To Fee Or Not To Fee?
When it comes to credit cards, do you think you need to spend money to make money? Or would you rather keep your hard earned money out of the banks' hands?
Whatever your reason for avoiding annual fees, did one of these no fee cash back cards catch your eye?
Finally, please remember that letting credit cards entice you into debt with rewards is NEVER worth it. Credit card rewards are only worth it if you plan to pay off your card in full every month to avoid debt and interest charges.