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Chase Freedom Review: 5% Cash Back is King

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The Chase Freedom® is one of the best rewards credit cards in the business, with no annual fee and great cash-back rewards. It offers cardholders 5% cash back on rotating quarterly bonus categories and 1% elsewhere. There’s also a great signup bonus: get a $100 bonus after spending $500 on 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.

Chase Freedom Credit Card
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At a glance
Annual fees None
Foreign transaction fee 3%
Rewards program Cash back
Signup bonus get a $100 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
Verdict: If you fit in with the bonus categories, go for it
Good for:
  • 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® Card (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 bonus categories

In this article:

The Chase Freedom® basics
Chase Freedom® vs. the other 5% cash-back credit cards
Where it shines
Where it falls short

The Chase Freedom® basics

The Freedom is a 5% cash-back card, which means it gives 5% back on bonus categories that change every quarter — up to $1,500 spent quarterly. For 2015, the bonus categories are as follows:

  • Q1 (January – March): Grocery stores, movie theaters and Starbucks stores
  • Q2 (April – June): Restaurants and more (in 2014, Lowe’s home improvement stores)
  • Q3 (July – September): Gas stations and more (in 2014, Kohl’s)
  • Q4 (October – December): Amazon.com and more (in 2014, 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. The card has an annual fee of $0 and an introductory APR of 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 22.99% (Variable). Whether you’re looking to make a big purchase and pay it off over time, or simply earn good rewards, this is a great card to have.

Example image of Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

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Pros

  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No annual fee
  • 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months

Sign-up Bonus

get a $100 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

APR

  • APR: 13.99% - 22.99% (Variable)
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 24.99%, Variable

Card Details

  • Named a Best Card for Cash Back by MONEY® Magazine
  • Earn a $100 Bonus after you spend $500 on 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 4/1/15-6/30/15 at Restaurants, Bed Bath & Beyond®, H&M®, and Overstock.com®
  • 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 as long as your account is open

The perks don’t stop there for the Chase Freedom®. The Nerds have found that it’s pretty easy to qualify for if you’re a young adult, recent college grad or someone with a short credit history. Also, the Chase Freedom® grants you access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards site, an online storefront that gives you up to 10% cash back on your online purchases.

Chase Freedom® vs. the other 5% cash back-credit cards

Other 5% cards include the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card and Discover it®. Here’s how they stack up:

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card: The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card beats the Chase Freedom® in most ways, but suffers for the lack of a signup bonus. The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card 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 a bonus mall like Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Discover it®: The Discover it® offers a similar rewards program, with a $1,500 quarterly cap on bonus spending and an unlimited 1% rewards elsewhere. The Discover it® doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, but Discover isn’t as widely accepted overseas as Visa and MasterCard. The Chase Freedom® also offers a signup bonus, whereas the Discover it® doesn’t.

Where it shines

The Chase Freedom® is an excellent card if your spending habits closely resemble the bonus categories. Otherwise, you can find better cash rewards elsewhere.

If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Chase Freedom® is a great card to pair with it. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns Ultimate Rewards Points, which are worth 1.25 cents each if you redeem for travel booked through Chase. The Chase Freedom® isn’t eligible for this perk, but you can transfer the points earned on the Chase Freedom® to your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card account to take advantage of the points value boost. If you use this rewards hack, the Chase Freedom® effectively earns 6.25% rewards on bonus spending and 1.25% everywhere else.

Where it falls short

As we mentioned above, there are cases where the Chase Freedom® isn’t the best option for you. Here are two profiles of people who shouldn’t get the Chase Freedom®:

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

If you don’t want the hassle of opting into and keeping track of 5% bonus categories, you should consider the Citi®Double Cash Card instead. Offering 1% back on all purchases when you make them and another 1% when you pay them off, the Citi®Double Cash Card gives high rewards without rotating categories or the need to opt in to them. The card also boasts an annual fee of $0 and an introductory APR of 0% on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 12.99% - 22.99% (Variable).

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

If you don’t spend money in line with the Chase Freedom®‘s bonus categories, you won’t get much value out of the card. In this case, you may want to consider one of the other 5% cards that better fits your spending habits, or the Citi®Double Cash Card, as mentioned above.

Bottom line: If you spend in line with the Chase Freedom®‘s 5% bonus categories, it’s a great card — especially when used in conjunction with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Otherwise, you’ll want to go with a high cash rewards card, like the Citi®Double Cash Card, or another 5% rewards card with bonus categories that match your spending profile.

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
    • Bergner’s
    • 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
  • nunya_bid

    the problem is, as always, the fine print. only certain merchants fall into the 5% categories. for instance, this quarter to date, i’ve spent $1k on dining, so i should have nearly 4000 bonus points ($40 in cash back reward) but i only have about 1500..that’s computing with the 4% above the std 1% reward. so, the bonus is kinda BS with no transparency as to how much bonus they give to which charges. the only info i can see is how many total points i have, not to which charges they’re attached. i might ditch this card and just use my sapphire preferred. such bull.

  • Rocky

    Called Chase to request for a smart card – the ones with a chip. They told me that, at present, this feature was only available to the residents of Elysium (Sapphire Card holders). I called Citibank and got me my smart card. Guess who is getting my business from this point on! Chase told me essentially what the nut said to the bolt – “Screw me!”

    • Chelsea

      They now have Freedom cards with the chip functionality, starting August 1st :)

  • Annie

    The application process sucks, they are rude and do not get back to you on time. Then you will get denied for a stupid reason like your gov. ID is fake. Even though the ID was definitely not fake. Many friends have applied and have run into problems

  • Abe

    Hi Nerd, can you please explain the Sapphire, Freedom pairing?
    How can you earn 5% cash back AND have all the benefits of sapphire?
    is it only that you earn cash back through freedom purchases (usually not on travel) and then redeem them on the sapphire account? I’m confused by your description.

    Further, if you’re abroad and want to pay no foreign transaction fees youd have to use the sapphire card and then not earn any cashback.