One of our most preferred cash back cards, the Chase Freedom stands out for a number of reasons:
- It offers 5% cash back in bonus categories that change quarterly, up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter.
- It offers an unlimited 1% cash back everywhere else.
- It has no annual fee, making it accessible to most people.
- It gives you access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, which earns you 2-20% extra rewards on preferred retailers.
- $200 cash back bonus - the name says it all.
Our CEO and part-time robot, Tim Chen, breaks down the Freedom's virtues:
If you prefer a text review, are sitting at work in a dead-silent office, or are reading this during your antebellum literature class, here's a step-by-step discussion of the Chase Freedom's high- and lowlights.
Overview: The Chase Freedom is one of the best
We consider the Freedom to be the best no-fee cash back credit card. It offers a really good rewards rate - 5% on bonus categories, 1% elsewhere - that works out on average to 2% in all the bonus categories year-round, and 1% everywhere else. So, on balance:
Chase Freedom's "2%" bonus categories:
Groceries, drugstores, home improvement and furnishings, lawn and garden, gas, hotels, airfare, dining, department stores, movies, and charitable donations
No-Fee Chase Sapphire's 2% bonus categories:
Another major advantage is that it gives cash back. For those of you who don't travel often enough to find miles useful, and aren't too hot on the idea of a limited gift card selection (that's you, Citibank), cash is simple and easy to redeem.
There's also the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall. From the mall's website
, you click through to a retailer's online storefront, and can shop to your heart's content. As long as you start off from the UR site, you'll earn 2-20% cash back on top of what you'd normally earn. The best part is that you get the full selection: rather than offering 5% back on Macy's sweaters, you get 5% back on everything at Macy's.com. Popular retailers include Kohl's and Macy's with 10% extra rewards; Lord & Taylor and Barnes & Noble with 8%; and Peet's Coffee, Overstock.com and Target, each with 5% back (current as of 12/28/11).
Finally, there's the $200 cash back signup bonus. It's actually quite achievable - spend $500 in 3 months and it's yours, less than $6 a day.
The Freedom stands out as both an excellent rewards card, and one that's easily accessible. 40% of Team NerdWallet - okay, two of us - have the Freedom, and we both chose it because we don't spend that much money, aren't huge fans of fees, and have relatively limited credit histories.
There's always a "but"
For all that, the Freedom has its flaws. Namely, the 2012 bonus categories are unimpressive:
- Q1 (January – March): Gas stations and Amazon.com
- Actually useful, given that Amazon sells anything and everything.
- Q2 (April – June): Groceries and movie theaters
- Groceries are nice, but ideally the movie category would appear in the summer blockbuster or winter Oscar months.
- Q3 (July – September): Gas stations and restaurants
- Another good one: gas for the summer driving season, and restaurants are always in vogue. However, it's hard to see spending $1,500 on the two combined.
- Q4 (October – December): Hotels, airlines, Best Buy and Kohl’s
- The Best Buy and Kohl's rewards are upsetting, because the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall regularly gives you an extra 5-10% back on those or similar stores. They offered 10% back on both Best Buy and Kohl's in the past couple of months, and didn't waste a whole quarter's bonus categories on them.
That is the main source of our discontent. However, since the Freedom's a no-fee card, you can supplement it with another card that earns rewards in different categories. For example, the Freedom doesn't give rewards on department stores, and goes light on groceries. The American Express Blue Cash Preferred gives 6% on groceries and 3% on both department stores and gas, with no limit (the card has a $75 annual fee; the no-fee version gives 3% and 2% respectively). That's a great way to earn rewards on your everyday purchases during the Freedom's lean months, while still getting 5% cash back when you can.
The 2012 Chase Freedom isn't as impressive as the 2011 version, but it's still a great value. No fee, an easily attainable $200 cash back, and 5% back in bonus categories - it's hard to turn that down.