Chase Freedom® review: Stellar rewards with some legwork

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In a Nutshell

The Chase Freedom® credit card offers standout rewards on everyday purchases, but earning them requires a little extra legwork.

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The Chase Freedom® credit card has a lot to offer to cash back newbies and experts alike.

You’ll get a whopping 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate and unlimited 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

The card also features a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.

The card comes with a 0 percent intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months from account opening. After that, the card has a variable APR of 15.99 to 24.74 percent, and the balance transfer fee is 5 percent of the amount transferred with a minimum of $5.

Chase Freedom®

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Chase Freedom®

From cardholders in the last year

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Is cash back the best way to go?

With several travel rewards credit cards offering sign-up bonuses potentially worth up to hundreds of dollars, a cash back credit card might not sound quite as exciting. But there are a couple of things to consider.

For starters, some of the best cash back credit cards, including Chase Freedom®, come with no annual fee. For the fee-averse, that means you don’t need to scramble to earn enough rewards to make up for the cost of the card.

Second, cash offers the ultimate flexibility. You don’t have to worry about maximizing your redemption value or figuring out how you’re allowed to use your rewards. You simply get your cash back and then use it for whatever you want.

What we like Heads up
  • 5% cash back on bonus category purchases
  • Decent sign-up bonus, plus an authorized user bonus
  • No annual fee
  • You have to activate your bonus categories every quarter
  • Bonus categories may cause you to change your spending habits
  • Non-bonus spending earns only 1 percent cash back

  1. The rundown: Everything we like about Chase Freedom®
  2. Heads up: What you should consider before applying for Chase Freedom
  3. Do the math: How to get the most out of Chase Freedom
  4. The competition: How Chase Freedom® stacks up against similar card
  5. Bottom line: Is Chase Freedom® right for you?

The rundown: Everything we like about Chase Freedom®

Whether you’re a credit card rewards newbie or you’re mad about maximizing your cash back, the Chase Freedom® card is a great option. Here are some of the top reasons why:

Get 5 percent back on common purchases

For many people, getting the card’s maximum rewards rate won’t be hard. For example, the card’s 2017 bonus categories include gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and Walmart.

“It seems that Chase tailors the cash back categories to each season,” says Sharita Clark, a Chase Freedom® cardholder for the past four years. You have to remember to activate your bonus categories.

Multiply your cash back when you use Shop Through Chase®

You’ll get 1 percent to 15 percent cash back when you shop through Chase’s online shopping mall. That’s in addition to the base cash back you earn with the card.

Start off on the right foot

You’ll get a one-time $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Plus, you’ll get an extra $25 if you add an authorized user to your card and make a purchase in the same three-month period from account opening.

Earn even more bonuses when you refer

Once you have the card, you can earn $100 for every friend you refer who gets the Chase Freedom® card. Depending on how many referrals you send, you can earn up to $500 cash back every year.

Get some relief on interest

The card offers a 0 percent intro APR for the first 15 months from account opening on both new purchases and balance transfers. After that, a 15.99 to 24.74 percent variable APR applies.

Redeem your cash back in multiple ways

If you just want straight cash back, you can get it in the form of a statement credit or direct deposit to your checking or savings account. Alternatively, you can redeem your rewards for travel, gift cards or orders.

No annual fee

It’s hard to believe it, but you get all of these benefits with a $0 annual fee.

Heads up: What you should consider before applying for Chase Freedom®

If you want rewards, the Chase Freedom® has them in spades. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best card for everyone. Here are some things to know before you get the card:

Non-bonus rewards aren’t too exciting

You’ll only receive 1 percent cash back on every dollar you spend once you’ve spent $1,500 on combined purchases in the bonus categories each quarter. With many cash back cards offering 1.5 percent or higher on all purchases, getting 1 percent back on most of your purchases can be unappealing.

The intro balance transfer promotion isn’t free

If you move a balance from a high-interest credit card to your Chase Freedom®, you’ll get 15 months to pay it off interest-free. After that, a 15.99 to 24.74 percent variable APR applies. Balance transfers come with a fee of 5 percent or $5, whichever is greater. Other balance transfer cards charge a 3 percent fee, and some charge no upfront fee at all.

You can get a better sign-up bonus elsewhere

The Chase Freedom® sign-up bonus isn’t the best out there, even among cash back cards with no annual fee. If it’s a big bonus you’re after, consider other options.

Rotating categories can be a hassle

Getting 5 percent cash back is great, but you have to remember to activate your bonus every quarter. Plus, you might have to reprioritize your spending to qualify. For example, if you usually cook at home, you won’t earn much if the current quarter’s bonus category is restaurants.

Do the math: How to get the most out of Chase Freedom®

It can be hard to make sure Chase Freedom® is worth it for you. While Chase publishes a cash back calendar, the bank sometimes announces bonus categories one quarter at a time, making it hard to plan.

In general, however, Chase tries to keep some of the same categories each year, including restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and holiday shopping.

Of course, you’ll only get 5 percent on those purchases three months out of the year, so to calculate how much in rewards you could earn from the card, multiply your monthly purchases for each of these categories by three and then 0.05.

I have earned almost $100 this year by using my Chase Freedom® credit card. 

Sharita Clark, a Chase Freedom® cardholder

For example, say you typically spend $200 per month on average at restaurants. If restaurants are in one of the quarterly bonus categories, you’d spend $600 in those three months and earn $30 in cash back. Just remember that if you go over the card’s $1,500 limit on one quarter’s bonus categories, additional purchases earn only 1 percent cash back.

“I have earned almost $100 this year by using my Chase Freedom® credit card,” Clark says. “And I know that I will receive [even more] by the end of the year because of the awesome cash back categories for the current quarter.”

If you’re planning to do a balance transfer on the card, things can get a little trickier because of the card’s balance transfer fee. Use an online balance transfer calculator to see whether paying the fee is worth the interest savings in your situation.

The competition: How Chase Freedom® stacks up against similar cards

General Card Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on every purchase
Citi® Double Cash Card Earn cash back twice on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
Discover it® Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter up to the quarterly maximum ($1,500 as of November 2017) each time you activate, then 1% cash back on all other purchases.

General Card

General Card will give you a one-time $200 sign-up bonus after you spend $1,000 in purchases in your first 90 days  of account opening, which is a bit higher than what the Chase Freedom® card offers with its sign-up and authorized user bonuses. For ongoing purchases with General Card, you’ll earn 1.5 percent cash back rewards.

From our partner

General Card

From cardholders in the last year

Citi® Double Cash Card

The Citi® Double Cash Card is unique in that it rewards you for making purchases and paying for them. You’ll get 1 percent cash back on each purchase, then another 1 percent back when you pay for those purchases — no need to keep track of ever-changing bonus categories.

From our partner

Citi® Double Cash Card

From cardholders in the last year

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Discover it®

The rewards structure for Discover it® is similar to that of Chase Freedom®: You’ll get 5 percent cash back on categories that rotate every quarter (on up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1 percent cash back), and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. What sets Discover it® apart is that it doubles all the cash back you earn during your first year. For big spenders, this means unlimited possibilities.

Bottom line: Is Chase Freedom® right for you?

Chase Freedom® is a great card if you’re willing to take the time to maximize your rewards. Adjusting your spending every three months to take advantage of the card’s bonus categories, however, can result in overspending if you’re not careful.
If you want more simplicity while still getting great rewards, check out some of the other top cash back credit cards to see which ones offer high rewards rates on all your purchases.

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