The Chase Freedom is one of the first true cash back rewards cards to hit the market. Many similar cards have been released since, but the Freedom paved the way for the cash rewards cards that exist today. If you're looking for a tried-and-true cash back rewards card to make the most of your spending, check out what the Freedom has to offer you. As long as the card is used correctly and paid on time, the pros far outweigh any potential cons that come from owning the card.
Chase Freedom Bonuses
Where the Chase Freedom really shines are its various bonuses. Check them out:
- 5% cash back in rotating categories on up to $1,500 each quarter
- Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases
- No annual fee
- $150 sign-up bonus if you spend more than $500 within the first three months
- 0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
- No expiration on rewards
The 5% rate is one of the highest out there for cash rewards, but the downside is that it only applies to specific categories. That said, the 1% cash back on all other purchases helps to fill the gap. With no annual fee, there's no pressure to spend a certain amount each year to 'break even,' and the lack of an expiration date means you can hold onto your rewards as long as you want.
Another benefit is that the Chase Freedom allows you to see your FICO credit score whenever you want, allowing you to monitor changes to your overall rating.
How Chase Freedom Compares
When held against other cash back cards, the Chase Freedom comes out clearly ahead. Take a look at the Capital One Quicksilver, another highly-recommend cash rewards card.
The Quicksilver earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases and carries a $100 cash bonus if you spend $500 within the first three months. The Quicksilver has no annual fee and has 0% APR for the first nine months. That said, it's the best cash rewards card that Capital One has to offer, but it would take slightly over 3 purchases to earn the same rewards that the Freedom would receive from a single 5% purchase.
The Citi Double Cash, on the other hand, earns 1% on all purchases and then another 1% when you pay off the card. That's a total of 2% per purchase if the card is used correctly. Combined with no annual fee and 0% APR for 18 months, it's a solid offer, especially for all-around purchases. That said, it would take 2.5 purchases (and paying them off) to earn the same rewards the Freedom earns from a single 5% reward.
Chase Freedom Rates and Fees
The Chase Freedom has the following rates and penalties you should be aware of.
For purchases and balance transfers, cardholders have 15 months of 0% APR. After that, the rate ranges from 15.74% to 24.49% based on your credit score. Balance transfers also carry a fee of $5 or 5% of the transfer, whichever is greater.
The cash advance APR is set at 25.74% with a fee of $10 or 5% of the advance, whichever is greater. There is also a 3% fee for all foreign transactions.
What's more interesting is the late penalty structure. If you have a balance of less than $100 when your payment is late, you owe only $15 in penalties. If your balance is between $100 and $250, you owe $27 in penalties. If your balance is greater than $250, however, you owe $37. Returned payments are also met with a penalty of $37.
What Makes Chase Freedom Different
The Chase Freedom sets itself apart not only from other Chase cards but also from other cards in general. The first way is the cash back. While most cards offer only 1% or 2.5% cash back on purchases, the Chase Freedom yields 5% in specific categories. It also has a significant sign-on bonus. That said, to make the most of the Chase Freedom you have to stay on top of the rotating, quarterly bonuses. It's flat-rate rewards pale in comparison to other cards.
For example, the Citi Double Cash Card yields 1% on all purchases and another 1% when you pay it off. If you don't want to go through the additional effort of keeping up with categories, having a card that's easier to use might be a better choice. If you are willing to put in the work, then the Chase Freedom is one of the best options out there.
Minimum Required Credit Score
Most rewards cards have relatively stringent credit score requirements. The Chase is a bit different in this respect. Although on paper the requirement is a rating of "Good" (around 700+), some cardholders have reported receiving approval even with scores as low as 645. The reasons for this aren't totally clear, as Chase isn't forthcoming with their approval process — for obvious reasons. That said, if you have a bad score but have made significant improvements to your credit rating in recent months, you may still qualify for the Chase Freedom.
How Rewards Work
To make the most of your Chase Freedom card, you need to understand how the rewards structure works. While the Freedom will yield 1% cash back on all purchases, there are a few categories which yield 5% cash back depending on the quarter. As of this moment, the bonus categories can be broken down like so:
- Quarter 1 (January 1 - March 31): Gas stations and local transportation
- Quarter 2 (April 1 - June 30): Grocery stores and drugstores
- Quarter 3 (July 1 - September 30): Restaurants and movie theaters
- Quarter 4 (October 1 - December 31): Holiday shopping
These categories are not the same year-to-year, so if you already have a Chase Freedom card you'll need to check next year to find out what the 2018 rewards schedule looks like. What these categories mean is that if you spend $12.50 for a movie ticket on July 5, you'll receive 5% cash back on that entire purchase; in other words, roughly $0.63. The 5% reward applies to purchases made at qualifying locations during that specific bonus period, but only during that period. If you were to spend the same amount at a theater on October 1, you would receive only 1% cash back.
How to Activate the Bonuses
The quarterly bonuses aren't automatic. Before you can take advantage of them, you'll need to activate them. You can do these several different ways. The easiest is most likely through the Chase mobile app, although you can also text or email to activate. If none of those methods work for you, you can activate in-person at a Chase Bank, call customer service, or access the website.
Chase Freedom Reviews
The best way to figure out if a card is right for your or not is to look at what other customers have to say. Here are a few reviews, both good and bad, of the Chase Freedom.
"I used to have the Chase Slate and did a product change for a card that had points available. I try to max out my 5X categories and some quarters it's easier than others. I love that I can transfer my points to Ultimate Rewards on my Chase Sapphire Reserve and get even more for them. It's my oldest card and tends to be the one I use the most."
- tlc111 (Chase.com)
"I was charged over $106 at Panda Express in Westwood, California on October 20, 2016, on my Chase Freedom credit card. My family had all of the credit cards in our possession and none of us were in Westwood that day. We promptly disputed the charge, but Chase upheld the charge. Chase said that even though Panda Express could not provide a copy of a signed receipt, it was upholding the charge because we had all of the cards in our possession. We appealed and Chase denied the appeal saying Panda Express did not have to provide a copy of the charge because we did not dispute the charge promptly, even though we disputed the charge within 10 days."
- Tae (Consumer Affairs)
Chase Freedom -- Our Verdict
If you're looking for a cash rewards card, the Chase Freedom ranks up there with the other industry leaders — the Capital One Quicksilver and CitiBank Double Cash being two others. While there are a few downsides to owning the card (like the relatively low base rate), the high cash back potential more than makes up for it. As long as you take the time to use the card properly (and actually shop at the locations where you can earn more cash back), the Chase Freedom is an excellent choice.