Chase Freedom® was among the first true cash back credit cards. Imitators have come and gone, but its promise of unlimited 1% cash back and up to 5% cash back (up to $1,500 per quarter) in select quarterly spending categories remains – though you do have to manually activate your 5% cash back categories, which is often an annoying extra step to take. Chase Freedom® has long had an attractive sign-up bonus – currently $150 cash for $500 in qualifying purchases within 3 months of account opening – and it has never charged an annual fee.
Chase Freedom® has plenty of other perks too, including a 15-month purchase and balance transfer promotion and no penalty APR. Though Chase doesn’t specify the precise credit score you need to qualify, Freedom is openly marketed to more inexperienced credit card users with less-than-perfect credit scores and moderate incomes. Comparable cash back credit cards include Discover it (which comes in several versions), Capital One Quicksilver, Barclaycard CashForward, American Express Blue Cash Everyday, and BankAmericard Cash Rewards.
- Sign-up Bonus: Spend $500 within 3 months of account opening and get a $150 bonus cash back credit. You can get an additional $25 bonus by making your first purchase and adding an authorized user to the account, both also within the first 3 months of account opening.
- Cash Back Rewards: Chase Freedom® pays 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in total purchases ($75 in total cash back rewards) in certain quarterly rotating spending categories, such as gas stations, restaurants, department stores, and specific online retailers, including Amazon. After you hit the quarterly spending cap, additional purchases in the 5% cash back categories earn an unlimited 1% cash back. All other purchases earn an unlimited 1% cash back, as well. Keep in mind that you have to manually activate your 5% cash back spending categories before the middle of the last month of the applicable quarter. Once you activate, your cash back earnings are retroactive throughout the quarter.
- Cash Back Redemption: Once you accumulate $20 in cash back rewards, you can redeem for a statement credit, bank account deposit, gift card, or purchases made through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards shopping portal. Your cash back earnings never expire.
- Cash Back Boost: The Cash Back Boost feature promises bonus cash back on purchases made directly through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal (also known as “Shop Through Chase”). Extra cash back earnings usually range from 1% to 5% on top of the unlimited 1% baseline cash back, but can occasionally reach or exceed 10% – for instance, ProFlowers periodically offers 10% cash back. Cash Back Boost offers do change frequently, so sign up for email alerts to catch current deals.
- Introductory APR: Enjoy 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months from account opening. Balance transfers can be made at any time during the 15-month window to qualify for the promo rate.
- Important Fees: Freedom doesn’t have an annual fee. Foreign transactions cost a flat 3% of the transaction amount, balance transfers cost the greater of $5 or 5%, and cash advances cost the greater of $10 or 5%.
- Purchase Protection: Chase’s Purchase Protection plan provides up to 4 months of complimentary protection for all purchases made in full with your Chase Freedom® card. The benefit is good up to $500 per covered item and $50,000 total per account. Coverage includes potential perils such as theft, damage, and loss.
- Rental Car Insurance: When you decline the rental company’s insurance option and charge the entire rental to your Chase Freedom® card, you’re automatically covered for theft and collision expenses in the U.S. and most international markets (secondary to your own personal auto insurance).
- Credit Required: This card requires very good credit. Some minor blemishes may be acceptable, but major dings are likely to disqualify your application.
- Cash Back Boost Increases Earning Power. Freedom’s Cash Back Boost feature is great for, well, boosting your cash back – specifically, beyond the constraints of the $75 earnings cap on your 5% quarterly spending categories. It’s common to find unlimited 2% to 6% cash back (in addition to the 1% baseline cash back) through Cash Back Boost, and is occasionally possible to find even better deals. The catch is that Cash Back Boost may tempt you to buy things you don’t really need. Still, Capital One Quicksilver, Capital One QuicksilverOne, and Citi Double Cash all lack analogous features.
- No Annual Fee. Chase Freedom® has no annual fee, a big perk relative to similar cards such as the Capital One QuicksilverOne ($39 annual fee) and the American Express Blue Cash Preferred ($95 annual fee).
- 0% Intro and Balance Transfer APR for 15 Months. Chase Freedom® comes with a 15-month 0% purchase and balance transfer APR promotion. Even better, transfers made at any time during the promotional window qualify. The Discover it card only offers a 12-month balance transfer and purchase APR promotion, while the promotions of Capital One’s cash back cards last for a limited time.
- Large, Easily Attainable Sign-up Bonus. Freedom’s $150 sign-up bonus is bigger than average and is pretty easy to snag: Just spend $500 within 3 months of opening your account, or roughly $166 per month. The $150 sign-up bonus on the Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express requires you to spend at least $1,000 within 3 months, while Barclaycard CashForward and BankAmericard Cash Rewards both offer only $100 for $500 spent within 90 days.
- No Penalty APR. Though Freedom has late fees, it never charges a penalty APR. That’s welcome news for cardholders of Citi Double Cash and American Express cash back cards who are in search of a reprieve.
- Flexible Cash Back Redemption. Chase lets you redeem your Freedom card’s accumulated cash back pretty much any way you want: statement credits, bank account deposits, good-as-cash gift cards, and a vast array of merchandise through the Ultimate Rewards portal. Some competing cards, such as Barclaycard CashForward (no merchandise purchases) and Capital One’s cash back cards (statement credits or bank account deposits only), aren’t so flexible.
- Baseline 1% Cash Back Is Lower Than Some Competitors. Chase Freedom’s 1% baseline cash back rate is lower than the rate of some competing cards. If you’re a moderate to heavy spender, you’re likely to exceed the $1,500 quarterly spending threshold for Freedom’s 5% categories. By contrast, Capital One Quicksilver, Capital One QuicksilverOne, Barclaycard CashForward, and BankAmericard Cash Rewards all earn unlimited 1.5% cash back, while Citi Double Cash effectively has a 2% baseline cash back rate. These cards are better for people who spend more and are thus more likely to exceed the quarterly 5% spending cap.
- Manual Activation Required for 5% Cash Back. Chase requires you to manually activate your 5% cash back categories each quarter. If you don’t do so by the middle of the last month of the quarter, you miss out on any potential earnings for that quarter. While it takes just a few minutes at most to activate, it’s still annoying to have to take time out of your routine and remember to do so. Most other cash back cards, even those with special categories, such as Discover it Chrome and American Express Blue Cash Preferred, don’t require manual category activation.
- No Credit Monitoring or Scores. Chase Freedom® does not offer credit monitoring or credit score updates as a perk of membership. Many competing cash back cards, including the Discover it and Capital One cash back card families, offer monthly or unlimited credit scores for no extra charge.
- Expensive Cash Advances. It’s expensive to use your Chase Freedom card for cash advances: $10 or 5%, whichever is greater, plus a higher APR. That’s more than both BankAmericard Cash Rewards and Capital One Quicksilver.
While its baseline 1% unlimited cash back is no longer the gold standard for cash back credit cards, the lack of an annual fee and the promise of additional earnings for purchases made through the Ultimate Rewards portal certainly sweeten the deal. That said, you want to avoid this card if you prefer the simplicity of a flat-rate cash back rewards card or if you travel frequently, since the foreign transaction fee and limited travel rewards are problematic.