One of Leslie Tayne's go-to credit cards is an American Express that carries an annual fee.
This might sound like a big no-no to many. Why pay when so many credit cards offer low interest rates and generous rewards programs without charging an annual fee?
But Tayne, founder of Tayne Law Group PC, a New York-based law firm that specializes in debt assistance, knows what she's doing: She's in it for the perks.
Several cards that charge an annual fee provide benefits that no-fee cards can't match. Tayne frequently flies across the country and relies on the travel perks that her annual-fee card provides.
"I get certain services that I can't get with other cards," Tayne says. "I travel a lot. And the travel services are important to me. They more than make up for the annual fee."
And that's the key, says Tayne and other financial experts. It's true that there are plenty of top credit cards that don't charge annual fees. But cards with annual fees might make sense if the perks that come with these cards provide you with yearly savings that are higher than what you'll pay each to keep the card.
It's up to consumers to do the financial analysis to determine if a card with an annual fee is a good choice.
The fees you'll pay
What kind of annual fees can you expect to pay on a credit card? On the lower side, some cards charge around $50 per year, but some premium cards charge annual fees that are closer to $500. This isn't to say that the card with the higher annual fee is right for every consumer, but for the right person, whose spending patterns align with the card's benefits, it might be a good choice.
Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network, says that it's a mistake to dismiss a credit card just because it comes with an annual fee. Do you spend a lot of time in airports? Are you constantly checking into hotels? Depending on your lifestyle and spending habits, the extra benefits that come with annual-fee cards might make these cards a smart addition to your wallet.
Some premium credit cards give consumers priority boarding on airlines. Others provide exclusive access to airport lounges, making a long layover less of a hassle. Some annual-fee cards offer concierge services to help cardholders book reservations at top restaurants, reserve hotel rooms or secure rental cars. Concierge services might also help cardholders land tickets on a new flight if a previous one is suddenly canceled.
Other annual-fee cards offer rewards programs that are more robust than those offered by cards that don't charge yearly fees.
"A card with an annual fee could be worth it to some people if the benefits truly are worth it," Gallegos says. "For some people, additional extended warranty coverage, loss protection for cancelled trips or greater rewards points might be high on their lists of priorities. Some cards offer concierge services, and some people really value that."
Melinda Opperman, senior vice president of community outreach and industry relations with Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management, says that consumers need to look carefully at how they use their credit cards before deciding if they should apply for one that charges an annual fee.
If you fly on several business trips each year for work, a card that offers an enticing earn rate on miles might make sense. If you are always behind the wheel, a card that offers a bigger cash-back rate on gasoline purchases might be the right fit for you, even if it charges a $99 annual fee.
"You really do have to look at your spending habits before you make a," Opperman says. "A card that is perfect for one person might not be perfect for you. It all depends on how you use your cards and how often you use them."
Doing the math
Here's the most important calculation you can make: Will you actually use the benefits that come with an annual-fee card?
"If you are committed to using the extra airline points that come with an annual-fee card, for instance, then maybe it's worth it," Gallegos says. "But if you're earning rewards and not using them, paying an annual fee is akin to throwing money away."
Gallegos recommends that cardholders calculate how much it would cost them to purchase the items or benefits that they'll receive with an annual-fee card. For instance, if a card gives them a concierge service, how much would a cardholder have to spend to hire a personal assistant to make reservations and fix canceled flights on their behalf? Or, if they would instead perform this work on their own, how much time would it cost them?
If consumers determine that they'd spend more money than the annual fee -- or that they'd waste too much of their time handling concierge services on their own -- then the annual-fee card might make sense, Gallegos said.