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5% Category Showdown: US Bank Cash+ vs. Chase Freedom

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5% Category Showdown: US Bank Cash+ vs. Chase Freedom

Getting a credit card that earns 5% cash back in quarterly bonus categories is a great way to rack up extra rewards as you swipe. The hard part is choosing which 5% card is right for you: the Chase Freedom® or the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card.

The Nerds did some analysis and compared the two on several features. Let’s see how these cards stack up to their best competition – each other.

Signup bonus

Winner: Chase Freedom®

Both cards offer signup bonuses to start things off. But the Chase Freedom®’s bonus is especially generous: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card offers a New Cardmember bonus: $100 after you spend $500 in eligible net purchases in the first 90 days you have the card. In September 2017, U.S. Bank also added a limited-time offer for new cardholders: In the first year you have the card, the 5%, 2% and 1% rewards rates are increased to 5.5%, 2.5% and 1.5%. After the first year, the rates drop back to 5%, 2% and 1%.

The reason the Chase Freedom® is the clear winner in this area is that bonus is actually in the form of Ultimate Rewards points, which you can redeem for cash back or a slew of other things. Plus, if you choose to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for travel instead of cash back (which you can do if you have certain other cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points), your points are worth 25% more than if you were to get cash back.

5% categories

Winner: U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

Both the Chase Freedom® and the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card offer the chance to earn 5% cash back, but they do so in different ways. Let’s start with the Chase Freedom®; with this card, you’ll earn 5% in rotating quarterly bonus categories (up to $1,500 spent per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The current categories:

Chase Freedom® bonus rewards categories for 2017
Q1 (Jan. 1 - March 31)Gas stations and local commuter transportation (not including parking, tolls or Amtrak)
Q2 (April 1 - June 30)Grocery stores and drugstores
Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)Restaurants and movie theaters
Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)Walmart and department stores

With the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, you’ll earn 5% back in two categories of your choice every quarter (up to $2,000 spent per quarter), 2% cash back in one category of your choice, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Every quarter, you’ll be able to select new 5% and 2% bonus categories.

As of March 2015, examples of 5% categories you can choose from include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Department stores
  • Fast food
  • Gyms
  • Furniture stores
  • Charity

As of March 2015, examples of 2% categories you can choose from include:

  • Gas stations
  • Groceries
  • Restaurants

The Nerds think the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card bests the Chase Freedom® on 5% bonus categories because you’re able to choose where you want to earn extra cash back. Additionally, you’ll have the ability to change your 5% and 2% retailers every quarter. This means you can make the most of your card’s rewards as your spending changes throughout the year.

Unless you feel very confident that your swiping will align perfectly with the 5% bonus categories offered by the Chase Freedom®, the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card likely provides a better deal.

Cap on rewards earnings

Winner: U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card comes out ahead again when comparing caps on rewards earning. With this card, you’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $2,000 spent per quarter. With the Chase Freedom®, you’ll earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent per quarter. As is obvious, you can squeeze more bonus rewards out of the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card every quarter.

Both cards offer 1% cash back on non-bonus spending, and neither puts a cap on the total rewards you can earn. But don’t forget, you’ll also be earning unlimited 2% cash back in a spending category of your choice each quarter with the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card. All in all, you’re likely to score more rewards overall with this card.

Introductory APR offer

Winner: Chase Freedom®

The Chase Freedom® is the frontrunner if you’re planning to use your card to finance a large purchase and pay it off over a period of months. With it, you’ll pay 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.99% - 24.74% Variable APR. That’s well over a year at 0%, so you’ll have a long time make good on your balance transfer or big spend without paying a dime in interest.

With the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, here’s what you’ll get: 0% on Balance Transfers for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 23.99% Variable. Clearly, the Chase Freedom® blows the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card out of the water when it comes to introductory APR deals.

Nerd note: Although the Chase Freedom® offers a long 0% period on balance transfers, it charges a balance transfer fee. The Nerds recommend using the Chase Slate® for refinancing debt instead of the Chase Freedom®. The Chase Slate® waives this fee on all balances transferred within the first 60 days of opening your account.

The bottom line

Choosing between the Chase Freedom® and the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card mostly boils down to how you’re planning to use the card. The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card is a better choice for maximizing ongoing rewards, while the Chase Freedom® provides a good introductory APR deal, along with solid cash-back earnings and a signup bonus.

No matter which card you settle on, you can sleep easy knowing you’ve made a good choice. Both are excellent options for scoring cash back, so the Nerds encourage you to take your pick.

Lindsay Konsko is a staff writer covering credit cards and consumer credit for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @lkonsko and on Google+.

Image via iStock.