Chase Freedom Review: 5% Cash Back is King

(5/5 - 220 Votes)

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The Chase Freedom can be one of the best rewards credit cards in the business, offering no annual fee as well as great cash back rewards. Offering 5% back on bonus categories that change every quarter and 1% elsewhere, the Freedom also offers this attractive signup bonus: Earn a $100 Bonus after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Since it’s a fairly easy credit card to qualify for, it’s great for rewards rookies and cash back connoisseurs alike.

At a glance
Annual fees None
Foreign transaction fee 3%
Rewards program Cash back
Signup bonus Earn a $100 Bonus after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
Verdict: If you fit in with the Freedom’s bonus categories, go for it
Good for:
  • Someone who spends a lot on gas
  • Someone whose spending aligns with the Chase Freedom’s rotating bonus categories
  • Someone with a short credit history
  • Someone who has the Chase Sapphire Preferred (we’ll explain later)
Bad for:
  • Someone who doesn’t want the hassle of changing bonus categories
  • Someone who doesn’t fit in with the Freedom’s bonus categories
  • Someone who shops online frequently

In this article:

The Chase Freedom basics
Freedom vs. the other 5% cash back credit cards
Where it shines
Where it falls short
Why I got the Freedom (and still use it)

The Chase Freedom basics

The Freedom is a 5% cash back card, which means it gives 5% back on a slate of bonus categories that changes every quarter up to $1,500 spent quarterly. For 2014, it gives bonus rewards on:

  • Q1 (January 1 – March 31): Gas stations, movie theaters and Starbucks stores
  • Q2 (April 1 – June 30): Restaurants and Lowe’s home improvement stores
  • Q3 (July 1 – September 30): Gas stations and Kohl’s
  • Q4 (October 1 – December 31): Amazon.com, Zappos.com and select department stores

Aside from the 5% cash back on bonus categories (up to $1,500 spent quarterly), it gives an unlimited 1% cash back elsewhere. It has no annual fee, and gives 15 months of 0% interest on both purchases and balance transfers. Whether you’re looking to make a big purchase and pay it off over time, or simply earn good rewards, this is the way to go.

Chase Freedom®
Chase Freedom - $100 Cash Back Credit Card
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starstarstarstarstar
  • Earn a $100 Bonus after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn a $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period, a variable APR of 13.99%-22.99%.
  • 5% Cash Back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases between April 1 and June 30, 2014 at restaurants and Lowe's® home improvement stores
  • You'll enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants and Amazon.com. It's free and easy to activate your bonus each quarter!
  • Unlimited 1% Cash Back on all other purchases
  • No annual fee and rewards never expire
thumbsupPros
  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No annual fee
  • 0% for 15 mos on transfers
Annual Fee Signup Bonus APR , Variable* APR Promotions
$0 Earn a $100 Bonus after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. 13.99% - 22.99% (Variable) 0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

There are a couple other perks to recommend the Freedom. We at NerdWallet have found that it’s pretty friendly to young adults, recent college grads and people who have short credit histories. If you have limited credit, they might start you off with a low limit, but they’re a great first (or subsequent) credit card. And second, the Freedom grants you access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, an online storefront that gives you up to 10% cashback on preferred Chase retailers. These include Barnes and Noble (10% cash back), Fossil (6%) and Sears.com (7%). If you shop online anyway, this is a great way to increase your savings.

Freedom vs. the other 5% cash back credit cards

The other 5% cards are the Discover it, Citi Dividend Platinum Select and US Bank Cash+. Here’s how they stack up:

US Bank Cash+The Cash+ can actually beat out the Freedom in most ways, but suffers for the lack of a signup bonus. The Cash+ gives an unlimited 5% cash back on two bonus categories (you choose from a list that changes quarterly), 2% on gas, groceries or drugstores, and 1% elsewhere. But even better, if you save up for $100 worth of cash back, you’ll get $25 extra, effectively raising your rate to 6.25% and 2.5% on the bonus categories. and 1.25% elsewhere. However, it doesn’t have a signup bonus or access to discounts such as you see at the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, so it’s better than the Freedom if you hold the card for a short period of time.

Discover itThe Discover it offers more or less the same program, with a $1,500 quarterly cap in bonus spending and an unlimited 1% rewards elsewhere. In the it’s favor is its lack of foreign transaction fees; on the other hand, Discover’s acceptance isn’t as good as Visa or MasterCard’s. Plus, the it has no signup bonus, while the Freedom offers Earn a $100 Bonus after you make $500 in purchases in your first 3 months from account opening..

Citi Dividend Platinum SelectThe redheaded stepchild of the lot, the Dividend caps your rewards at $300 back per year – that’s $1,500 in bonus spending per quarter, with no rewards for additional purchases.

 Where it shines

The Freedom is an excellent card for gas purchases, as it typically includes gas as a 5% bonus category for two quarters of the year. As with all the 5% bonus cards, it’s great if you align with the bonus categories; if not, you should probably look elsewhere.

Another particularly good reason to get the Freedom is if you already have (or are considering applying for) the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This card earns Ultimate Rewards Points, which are worth 1.25 cents each if you redeem for travel booked through Chase. The Freedom isn’t eligible for this perk, but you can transfer the points earned on the Freedom to your Sapphire Preferred account, and therefore take advantage of the points boost. If you do this,the Freedom effectively earns 6.25% rewards on bonus spending and 1.25% everywhere else. Not too shabby!

Where it falls short

As we mentioned above, there are three cases where the Freedom is less than ideal. We’ll take an in-depth look at each one.

Someone who doesn’t want the hassle of changing bonus categories

Capital One Cash Credit Card Credit Card
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If you don’t like the idea of 5% bonus categories – and some people don’t want the hassle – you can consider the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card. Offering a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases, the card sports a good start: One-time $100 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months. It also has no annual or foreign transaction fee. No caps, no enrollment, no fuss.

Someone who doesn’t fit in with the Freedom’s bonus categories

Obviously, if you don’t spend money on the Freedom’s chosen bonus categories, then you won’t get much value out of the card. In that case, consider another 5% cash back card, or just go with the Quicksilver, mentioned above.

Someone who shops online frequently

Discover It Credit Card
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on Discover's
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The best credit card for online shopping is probably the Discover it. ShopDiscover’s online mall is pretty much the best out there, giving at least 5% rewards on a number of retailers such as the Apple store (5%), Macy’s (5%), and Groupon (15%). Plus, it’s giving 5% cash back on online shopping up to $1,500 in purchases on top of any ShopDiscover rewards through December 2013.

Why I got the Freedom (and still use it)

Chase Freedom - $100 Cash Back Credit Card
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on Chase's
secure website

The Chase Freedom was my first credit card, and I applied because it was a no-fee cash back card (I wasn’t ready for the complexity of annual fees or point limits), it seemed easier to qualify for (they’re pretty forgiving of short credit histories) and it offered a better signup bonus than the other cards in the category.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I still keep the Freedom card at the front of my wallet. 5% cash back is hard to find, after all. And when used in conjunction with my Chase Sapphire Preferred, it earns me 6.25% cash back on Amazon purchases for this quarter, which makes me a happy camper.

Appendix: Select department stores

Most popular department stores:

  • JCPenney
  • Kohl’s
  • Macy’s
  • Nordstrom
  • Sears

This excludes, among others, Target, Walmart and membership warehouses (such as Costco) Full list:

  • Baskins
  • Bealls
  • Beiter’s
  • Belk
  • The Big Store
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Bon-Ton, including
    • Boston Store
    • Carson’s
    • Elder-Beerman
    • Herbergers
    • Parisian
    • Younkers
  • Boscov’s
  • Bradley’s
  • Burke’s
  • Cayman’s
  • Cee & Cee Department Store
  • Charles
  • Christensen’s
  • Conway
  • Cook Brothers
  • Dillard’s
  • Flemington Department Store
  • Getz’s
  • Hudson’s
  • Jc’s 5 Star
  • Jeffery
  • Joe Brand
  • Loehmann’s
  • Lord & Taylor
  • Magic Mart
  • Max & Jill
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Rains
  • RH Renny
  • Saks Fifth Ave and Off 5Th
  • Sam Moon
  • Stanley Korshak
  • Uhan’s Department Store
  • Uniway
  • Von Maur
  • Weaver’s Store
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  • Tweetyiniowa

    This isn’t going on anymore. I clicked link, applied and was then told the sign up is 100.00, not 200.00. Was very disappointed. Only did it for the $200.00. $100.00, doesn’t seem worth it in my opinion.

    • Robbb

      I just got the $200 offer approved today (3/5)

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    There are many car insurance plans available in the market. The type of motor insurance you should sign up for depends on the car you drive and the personality you have.

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  • Del Futrell

    Chase says their Chase Freedom card is being discontinued at the end of October 2012 and cardholders are being switched to Chase Flexible Rewards. Boo!

    • http://twitter.com/wtfci wtfci

      Chase did this to my account. You can just apply for another Chase Freedom card. If you have a good score they will approve you on the spot.

  • Josh

    “You earn a total of 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent” — does this mean I can earn a total of 1500, or does it mean I can earn 5% of $1500 = $75.00?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      5% of $1500

  • JJ Smith

    Is it true that this card will be discontinued by end of Oct 2012 as Del Futrell

  • Gsad Dasg

    Being a VISA Signature card, does that mean it doesn’t report the credit limit to the credit bureaus?

  • TV

    You should mention that Discover allows you to redeem rewards for greater value. ie you can cash in $45 to get a $50 gift card.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hey there-

      It’s true that most rewards cards have “redeem 4,500 for a $50 gift card” offers, but that’s not necessarily exclusive to Discover – each card issuer has merchant affiliates who want to unload their excess gift cards.

      Hope this helps!
      The Nerds

  • chatsnoir

    don’t know about YOUR Discover card, but mine requires that you spend $3,000 during your bonus year (mine runs June 1-May 31) on purchases OTHER THAN cashback bonus categories, Sams/Walmart, and perhaps others I can’t think of offhand such as online rewards shopping, BEFORE you earn 1% cash back — SO, before you spend this $3,000 above and beyond all bonus categories, you get a mere .25% (that’s one quarter of one percent) cash back……. not too hot. so now i mostly use the Chase card unless Discover has a deal Chase doesn’t have, just so i can get at least 1% cash back on every purchase.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hey there, it seems like you have an older Discover card – the new Discover it pays out the full 1% rewards rate from the get-go, rather than paying 0.25% on non-bonus rewards for the first $3,000 spent annually.

      • chatsnoir

        thanks for the info! I just converted to the IT card PLUS grandfathered in my old, low interest rate which is lower than what they are offering new IT cardholders. PLUS i’ll get the full 1% at Sams (which doesn’t take visa) instead of only 0.25. they could have told us long-term cardholders about the new card. I also was recently dismayed with Discover that, had they not sent me a terse e-mail about this being the ‘only notice’ I would get that my due date was changing, I would have missed the new, earlier due date for the first time ever and then would have had to hassle with getting late charges and interest charges dropped. they could have put a notice in the bill….but didn’t. I hope that this lower standard of customer care does not become a trend with them.

  • Name

    How do I enroll for this qtr. I already have Freedom Card.

  • Hohlraum

    Pretty much every one of these bonus cash back category cards under normal usage are going to get you less than 1.5% over your total spend if you use that card for everything. I’ve tracked our discover card use over the last many years and I think the best I ever saw was a 1.3% cash back return. Thinking about shelving the Discover entirely and getting a flat 1.5% cash back for the majority of our purchasing from now on.