Life Too Complicated? 5 Simple Credit Cards

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I review dozens of credit card offers each week to find the best deals. My goal is to help you use credit cards to build and protect your money and credit. Check out more on our credit card page.

According to a recent survey, banks are increasing their marketing of so-called “plain vanilla” credit cards – cards with no annual fee or rewards. I call them “simple cards,” because they fulfill a rising demand of consumers who want fewer fees and penalties and much less complicated terms and conditions – and they’re willing to trade intricate rewards programs for sheer simplicity.

Stepping in to fill the void have been both large credit card issuers and some smaller ones you may have never heard of. Let’s take a look at the top five simple cards…

  1. PenFed Promise – PenFed is the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. It’s not a bank, but it does offer one of the simplest cards ever created. Their Promise card guarantees no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, no balance transfer fee, no cash advance fee, no late fee, no over-credit-limit fee, and no penalty APR. Best of all, its interest rate is a super-low introductory rate of 7.49 percent – and not for just a few months or even a year, but for the first 36 months. “After that, the APR will vary with the Prime Rate, and is currently 9.99 percent,” PenFed says. To apply, you must join PenFed, but anyone can do that based on their broad eligibility criteria.
  2. Citi Simplicity – Citi jumped into the simple-card market by grabbing the name “Simplicity.” Like the PenFed Promise card, the Simplicity card has no annual fee, late fee, or penalty interest rate. In addition, it offers zero-percent introductory financing for 18 months on both new purchases and balance transfers. Unfortunately, it does have a balance transfer fee and a foreign transaction fee that are 3 percent each.
  3. Chase Slate – Chase’s simple card is one of only two on the market with zero-percent promotional financing with no balance transfer fee. In addition to that enticing offer, it features no annual fee and an interest rate as low as prime plus 8.74 percent, making it just under 12 percent today, for the most qualified applicants. Finally, Slate cardholders are eligible to use their innovative Blueprint program, which allows you to avoid interest by paying a portion of your balances in full, even while extending payment on some charges.
  4. American Express Clear – American Express is best known for their premium charge cards, which can come with a premium price. But Clear is a credit card that wants to go head-to-head with other simple cards. It competes with no annual fee, no late fee, no balance transfer fee, no over-limit fee, and no cash-advance fee. It also offers a zero-percent introductory APR on purchases for one year, as well as a stripped-down rewards program: Cardholders will simply receive a $25 shopping card each time they reach $2,500 of spending.
  5. SimmonsFirst Visa Platinum – Here’s a small bank with a big deal: prime (currently 3.25 percent) plus 4 percent (for a current rate of 7.25 percent), no annual fee, no balance transfer fee, and no penalty interest rates. In fact, this card has one of the lowest APRs on the market right now.

A note of caution

Most of the cards on this list boast no penalty APR, which is the higher interest rate that’s incurred by cardholders after they’ve missed a payment. While this is good news, cardholders should still be careful to make all of their payments on time. To do otherwise will still risk suspension of their account, damage to their credit, and in some cases, late-payment fees.

Nuance and complexity is fine for foodies and wine tasters, but if you’re looking for a simple credit card, vanilla might be the best flavor out there.

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