avoid feesUpdated: Dec. 21, 2018

Credit cards used to have a bad reputation for charging tons of unfair fees, but in 2009 the Credit CARD Act changed the way many of these fees work to make them more fair to consumers. Things like inactivity fees, pay-by-mail fees and over-limit fees that you can’t opt out of are now illegal, and the other fees that stuck around are much more reasonable. Even still, if you’re like most people, you probably want to avoid credit card fees whenever you can, and there can be a lot of them to keep track of. Fortunately, there are many credit cards that reduce or waive certain fees as part of their benefits, so you have more freedom to use your card how you like without worrying about as many financial penalties. Read on to learn about different credit card fees, as well as some cards that can help you avoid those fees.

Annual fees

While most credit cards offer free memberships, some cards charge additional annual fees, regardless of how much you use them. It may seem preposterous to pay extra money just to have a certain credit card, but many of these cards make up for their fees by offering enhanced rewards, credits for certain services or benefits beyond that of your typical credit card. Travel cards, in particular, tend to have some of the highest fees and most luxurious perks, such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, which comes with a $300 annual travel credit, up to $100 application fee for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, and access to over 1,000 airport lounges for the steep price of $450 per year. With the variety of incredible free credit cards to choose from, you don’t have to pay an annual fee for a credit card if you don’t want to, while some annual fee cards, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (noted as the best card to avoid foreign transaction fees below), waive the fees for the first year while you see how you like them. Still, there are plenty of options for those who want to permanently avoid an annual fee.

Best cash back card to avoid annual fees: Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card

Avoid FeesIf you’re looking for a cash back card with no annual fee, you can’t go wrong with the feature-packed Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card. It earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and a nice $200 intro bonus after you spend $1,000 on purchases within your first 3 months of card ownership. You’ll also earn 1.8% cash back when using Google Pay and Apple Pay for the first 12 months, so it’s a great card if you like to pay for things using your phone. On top of that, this card has a 12-month 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers (there’s an intro balance transfer fee of 3% for 120 days, then it’s 5%), so you won’t have to pay any interest on your balance for a year. As an extra, amazing bonus, if you use your Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card to pay your mobile phone bill, the card will give you $600 of cell phone protection against covered damage and theft, with a $25 deductible per claim and a maximum of two claims per 12-month period. The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card requires good to excellent credit (usually considered a score of 700 or higher) to qualify.

Best travel card to avoid annual fees: Discover it Miles

Avoid FeesDiscover it Miles is one of the best no annual fee travel cards we review, and is perfect for taking abroad since it also has no foreign transaction fees, something you’ll read more about later. For rewards, this card earns an unlimited 1.5 miles for every $1 spent, and, at the end of your first year as a cardholder, Discover will match all of the miles you’ve earned. For example, if you earn 10,000 miles in your first year as a cardholder, Discover will match that to give you a total of 20,000 miles! You can redeem your miles for a statement credit against travel purchases or as a direct deposit into a bank account, so you can use your miles to cover any travel expenses you like. You’ll also enjoy a 14-month 0% intro APR on purchases (after that, a standard go-to rate applies). Additionally, Discover it Miles comes with a variety of useful security features, including free social security number monitoring, a free FICO score each month on your statement and access to Discover Freeze it, which lets you deactivate your card using a computer or mobile device if you lose it, and reactivate it if you find it. Discover it Miles requires average to excellent credit (usually considered a score of 670 or higher) to qualify.

Foreign transaction fees

When you use your credit card internationally, you may have to deal with foreign transaction fees. These are fees that cover the added cost to the credit card provider of routing your payment through foreign banks and converting it from another currency into U.S. dollars. Foreign transaction fees are often around 3% of a transaction’s total, though some credit cards will absorb this cost so you don’t have to worry about them. This is especially common on travel cards, since it wouldn’t make much sense for a card focused on travel to charge you extra fees when you use it while traveling, though a good amount of cash back cards also have this benefit.

Best card to avoid foreign transaction fees: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Avoid FeesThe Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is an excellent travel card with big rewards, lots of perks and a relatively modest $95 annual fee to go with it. However, the annual fee is waived for the first year, allowing you to rack up some serious miles before the annual fee kicks in. To help you do that, this card has a massive 50,000-mile intro bonus you can earn after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account. In terms of ongoing rewards, you’ll earn 10 miles for each $1 you spend on Hotels.com/Venture, a popular travel booking website, until January 31, 2020 as well as 2 miles for every $1 spent on all other purchases, which helped it take first place in our Travel Rewards Credit Card Analysis for travel cards with the highest rewards earning potentials. Extra features include no foreign transaction fees, a free TransUnion credit score each month and Visa benefits such as extended warranty protection and complimentary concierge service. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card requires good to excellent credit (usually considered a score of 700 or higher) to qualify.

Late fees

The dreaded late fee comes up when you don’t pay your credit card’s minimum payment by the due date. Late fees are capped by federal law, so credit card providers can’t charge you more than $27 for a late fee, or $38 if you’ve already paid late within the past six months, and late fees can never exceed the minimum payment that you missed. Paying late can also incur penalty APR, which can increase your APR to 29.99% or more until you make timely minimum payments for six months. If you don’t pay late very often and you slip up, you can try to call your credit card issuer and ask it to waive the fee. Alternatively, some cards offer automatic protections to occasional late payers.

Best card to avoid late fees: Discover it Cash Back

Avoid FeesDiscover it Cash Back is fantastic for people who occasionally forget to pay their credit card bills on time. With this card, paying late won’t raise your APR, and the late fee is waived for your first late payment. Apart from that, this is a great rewards card with no annual fee, sporting a hefty 5% cash back rate on rotating categories like restaurants, wholesale clubs, grocery stores and Amazon.com (up to a quarterly maximum, currently $1,500, then it’s 1% cash back), and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Claiming the 5% cash back does require you remember to activate your rewards every quarter, but you can set up an alert to automatically remind you when it’s time. At the end of your first year of card membership, Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned over the last 12 months, giving you a bonus that scales with how much you use the card. For example, if you earn $300 cash back as your first year as a cardholder, Discover will match that to give you a total of $600 cash back. You’ll also get a 14-month 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers (note that there is a balance transfer fee of 3%) — after that, a standard go-to rate applies. Similar to its travel rewards cousin, some extra perks offered by the Discover it Cash Back card include a complimentary TransUnion FICO score on your monthly statement to help you keep an eye on your credit, free identity protection alerts and Discover Freeze it. Discover it Cash Back requires average to excellent credit (usually considered a score of 670 or higher) to qualify.

Cash advance fees

Many credit cards allow you to use them to take money out of an ATM or request a check from your credit card issuer, essentially borrowing cash against your credit limit. However, this comes with a cash advance fee, which is usually around 5% of the money you take, with a $10 minimum payment. It’s also important to note that cash advances do not have grace periods for interest. For a typical credit card transaction, you have a grace period of a few weeks before you have to start paying interest on it, but cash advances start incurring interest payments from the day you take them out until you pay them off. Additionally, there are no 0% intro APR offers on cash advances, which is why we advise against them except in dire situations.

Return check or returned payment fees

“Return check fee” is a bit of an old term, since most people pay their credit card bills electronically now, in which case you’ll probably see this noted as a returned payment fee. These occur when your payment for a credit card bill gets rejected, often due to insufficient funds or entering your bank information incorrectly. They’re typically around $25 (or less if your minimum payment due is under $25), though, like late fees, they can increase to a maximum of $35 if you amass several return check fees within several months. If you pay your bill right before it’s due and your payment doesn’t go through, it’s possible to get both a late payment fee and a return check fee at the same time. It’s a good practice to pay your bill in advance to help you avoid this type of fee, as it’s not one credit cards are in the habit of removing.

It’s easy to avoid some credit card fees if you get the right card that works with your requirements. To see more card recommendations for all different walks of life, take a look at our credit card reviews.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.