If you don't want to lose $100 every year, choose credit cards with no annual fees. You'll find plenty of them online that are available even if your credit history and current score aren't stellar. Here are some recommended ones. 

illustration of a round stamp or award that says "zero fee"

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Credit score basics

Before getting to the list of the top five credit cards with no annual fee, let's review credit scores, as having a high score can boost your eligibility for cards with the best features. What qualifies as high? Well, basic FICO scores, which about 90% of top lenders use, range from 300 to 850. Here's how the folks at FICO rate the scores:

FICO Score Range

Rating

800 and higher

Exceptional

740-799

Very Good

670-739

Good

580-669

Fair

579 and lower

Poor

Data source: MyFICO.com. 

If your credit score isn't high, you might want to delay getting a credit card for a while -- to increase your credit score. Here are the components of a FICO credit score:

Component of Credit Score

Influence on Credit Score

Payment history

35%

How much you owe

30%

Length of credit history

15%

New credit

10%

Other factors such as your credit mix

10%

Data source: myFICO.com.

happy woman holding credit card and making okay gesture with fingers

Image source: Getty Images.

Kinds of credit cards

There are many different kinds of credit cards, with most types offering no-annual-fee options. Depending on your financial health and spending habits, certain kinds of cards will serve you better than others.

If you're already deep in debt, you'll want to pay that off as soon as possible. Balance-transfer credit cards can be good for that, because they charge no interest for an introductory period. Low-interest-rate credit cards are an option, too, as they can reduce your interest payments.

If you're not deep in debt, consider getting a cash-back credit card or other type of rewards card, such as a card that awards points for money spent on travel. The best travel credit cards will reward you for spending at restaurants, hotels, and on airline tickets, among other things.

If you do a lot of shopping, think about where you spend the most money, because many retailers offer cards that give you discounts when you shop with them. Lots of credit cards provide a range of extra perks, too, such as insurance on certain purchases, free shipping from a retailer, and even access to VIP lounges in airports.

How to identify a great credit card

Once you know which kind of card is right for you, take a closer look at the options available in that category. Here are valuable features to look for:

  • No penalty APR. A penalty APR is what happens when card companies raise your interest rate, often to 25% or more, if you're late paying a bill. Read a card's fine print to see whether there's a penalty APR. Plenty of cards don't have them.
  • No balance-transfer fee. If you're planning to transfer a balance, certain cards will charge you a percentage of the amount transferred to do so -- often 3% to 5%. That may still be worth it, but cards that charge no such fee are obviously preferable, holding all else equal.
  • Low interest rates. If there's a chance you will occasionally be carrying a balance, you should favor cards with a relatively low interest-rate range.
  • No foreign transaction fees. Without this feature, if you spend money abroad or with a foreign-based retailer, you'll see currency-exchange-related fees on your statement.
  • Access to your FICO credit score. It can be helpful to be able to check your credit score now and then, especially if you're working on paying off debt and increasing your score. Many cards these days let you see your score.
gold trophy with blurry background

Image source: Getty Images.

5 credit cards with no annual fee

Now that we've made our way through the most important credit card basics, here are five top-notch credit cards with no annual fee. Read the full review of any cards of interest for details, as different rules and limits apply to each.

Credit Card

Best For

Best Features

Full Review Link

Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card

People looking for cash back

Get 3% cash back on gas and 2% at supermarkets and wholesale clubs (on up to $2,500 of combined spending per quarter) -- and 1% back on all other purchases. Increased cash back is available to some Bank of America customers.

Bank of America Cash Rewards review 

Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard

People looking for cash back and a sign-up bonus

Earn a $200 bonus after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard review 

Chase Freedom Unlimited

People looking for cash back

Earn a $150 bonus after spending $500 in the first three months and 1.5% cash back on all new purchases.

Chase Freedom Unlimited review 

Citi Double Cash Card

People looking for cash back

Earn 2% cash back on all purchases -- 1% when you purchase and 1% when you pay it off.

Citi Double Cash Card review

Discover it®-Cashback Match™

People looking for cash back, especially in certain categories

Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories you activate such as gas and restaurants (on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Get double your cash back in the first year.

Discover it®-Cashback Match™ review

Data source: Motley Fool review of best no-annual-fee cards.

To see even more candidates for your credit card business, check out our updated list of the best no-annual-fee credit cards of 2017.

Paying an annual fee can make sense sometimes, when you're getting a lot more than the fee in rewards and benefits. But you can enjoy substantial rewards from cards with no annual fee, too.

Selena Maranjian owns shares of JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.