Is It Worth Paying an Annual Fee for a Credit Card?

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While shopping for a new credit card, you may have found options with an annual fee. Before clicking "submit" on the application, you may wonder: Does it make sense to sign up for a card with an annual fee? The answer depends on the card perks and your spending habits. Cards with an annual fee can be beneficial, but only if the value you get from the card offsets the cost.

Read on to learn more about how much card companies might charge for an annual fee and when paying one could make financial sense.

How Much Do Credit Card Annual Fees Cost?

The cost of a credit card's annual fee can vary greatly from one card to the next. Some credit cards have no annual fee, while others may charge $39 to $95 per year. Credit cards that come with premium benefits and travel perks may carry a much higher price tag of $250, $550 or even $995 per year.

Cards with higher annual fees may offer extra bells and whistles like access to an exclusive airport lounge, hotel upgrades and introductory rewards bonuses. In essence, you get what you pay for.

Why Do Credit Card Issuers Charge Annual Fees?

Companies may charge an annual fee for certain cards that provide generous cardholder benefits, like travel credits, exclusive rewards opportunities or free checked luggage on flights. You generally pay more per year for the cards that come with the most perks.

Another time a credit card may have an annual fee is if it's geared to borrowers with fair or poor credit. Interest rates for these types of cards may also be high. The good news is that after building credit with the card you may be able to qualify for a card that has a lower fee (or none at all) and a better interest rate.

When You May Want to Pay an Annual Fee

Before automatically ruling out a credit card that has an annual fee, it's worth doing some math to see if you can benefit from the card despite the fee. If the value you get from the card's rewards and other benefits exceeds the annual cost, paying the fee could be worthwhile. Here are some scenarios in which it could make sense to pay an annual fee:

Lucrative Rewards

If a card has a high-value rewards offer or introductory bonus, you may earn enough to cover the fee and still see some upside.

For example, a travel credit card may have a $95 annual fee where cardholders can earn 3 points per dollar on gas, groceries, restaurants, air travel and hotels. You would have to spend $950 each year on these categories to break even. Americans spend an average of $2,122 on their vacations, according to a study from Allianz Partners, while the USDA estimates a family of four with a moderate-cost food plan spends an average $11,076 a year on groceries. Add in average annual gas costs of around $2,366 for a total of $15,564. Using these averages (and taking one vacation a year), you'd earn about $438 year in rewards value, less the annual fee cost, if you put all these expenses on your card. Also, if you are a first time cardholder, some issuers may offer a one-time intro bonus which could be worth hundreds of dollars.

Find the best rewards credit cards with Experian.

Help Building Credit

As mentioned, credit cards geared toward borrowers with limited credit or poor credit may also have annual fees. While paying an annual fee may not be ideal, opening up a card with an annual fee and using it to build credit could have long-term advantages.

If you keep credit usage low and make your card payment on time each month, the card could help you build credit so you're better positioned to apply for loans and credit cards in the future.

Before opening up a credit card, be sure to compare rates and fees to see where you can get the best deal. Then after opening up the card, try to pay off the entire balance each month because it'll help you avoid interest. Otherwise, paying an annual fee on top of interest charges each month can get pretty expensive.

How to Get Your Credit Card's Annual Fee Waived

In some cases, credit card companies will waive the annual fee for the first year as a new cardholder incentive. If you're an existing cardmember and an intro offer isn't on the table, you may be able to call your card issuer to request a one-time waiver.

Compare Cards Before Applying

Whether paying an annual fee for a card makes sense for your budget depends on your spending habits and the benefits the card provides. If you rarely travel and barely use a credit card, choosing one with an annual fee may not be worthwhile since you may not see enough benefit to justify the fee.

On the other hand, if you spend heavily in a certain shopping category and a credit card rewards you for it, paying an annual fee for premium perks and rewards opportunities could work out well for you.

Before choosing a card, it's always a good idea to compare rewards programs to land on the right card for your situation. If you're looking for a good place to start shopping around, you can get personalized credit card offers that won't affect your credit score using Experian CreditMatch™.