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Chase Freedom Review: 5% Cash Back Is King

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Chase Freedom® Editor's Rating: 4.6 / 5

With an annual fee of $0 and generous cash-back rewards, the  Chase Freedom® is a good fit for rewards rookies and cash-back connoisseurs alike. It offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly bonus categories and 1% elsewhere, and you can qualify even with less-than-excellent credit. On top of that, there’s an easy-to-snag sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Here’s what you should know before applying.

Chase Freedom®

Apply Now on Chase's secure website

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Qualify with Good credit

Cons

  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better

Bonus Offer

Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

APR

  • APR: 14.24% - 23.24% Variable APR
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants, and wholesale clubs
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • No annual fee

In this article:

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

The Chase Freedom® basics

The Chase Freedom® offers 5% cash back on bonus categories that change every quarter, up to $1,500 spent quarterly. For 2016, the bonus categories are as follows:

Chase Freedom® bonus rewards categories for 2016
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 wholesale clubs
Q3 (July 1 – Sept. 30)Restaurants and wholesale clubs
Q4 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31)Department stores, wholesale clubs and drugstores

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’s annual fee of $0, and it has an introductory APR: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 23.24% Variable APR. This makes it easy to pay off a big purchase over time while earning competitive rewards.

If you have less-than-excellent credit and are looking for a good deal on cash-back rewards, this card could be your best option.

Where it shines

The Chase Freedom® is an excellent card if your spending habits closely resemble the bonus categories. Here’s why you may want to get it:

The rotating categories often include places where people make everyday purchases. Each quarter includes broad categories, such as restaurants or gas stations, specific grocery stores or wholesale clubs. For many people, earning these rewards doesn’t require many spending acrobatics.

You can generally qualify for it without a long credit history. You may be able to get the  Chase Freedom® even if you don’t have excellent credit, so it’s a great fit if you’re just starting out.

You can get even more value on merchandise. With this card, you can access the Chase Ultimate Rewards site, an online storefront that gives you up to 10% cash back on your online purchases.

It goes well with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. 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

Here’s why you might not want to get the  Chase Freedom®:

The rotating rewards can be a hassle for some. With the  Chase Freedom®, rewards categories change every three months, and that can be tedious to keep up with — especially if your spending habits don’t always align with the new categories. If you’re looking for a no-fuss card, you might be better off with one that offers flat-rate cash-back rewards on all purchases.

It’s not good for traveling abroad. Like most cash-back cards, the  Chase Freedom® charges a foreign transaction fee. Because of this, it’s not the perfect card to take with you on your next international getaway.

You have to opt in to rotating awards every quarter. If you want to qualify for the  Chase Freedom®’s 5% rotating rewards, you have to log on to your account and activate the rewards every three months. If you miss the deadline, you may be stuck with only 1% cash back on everything for a quarter. Generally, though, you’ll have until the 14th day of the third month in the quarter to sign up and earn retroactive rewards for that quarter, which is plenty of time for most people.

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

The  Chase Freedom® isn’t the only solid cash-back card on the market. Here’s how it stacks up with competitors:

Chase Freedom® vs. U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

Apply Now on US Bank's secure website

Pros

  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No annual fee
  • 0% for 12 mos on transfers

Cons

  • Needs excellent credit

Bonus Offer

N/A

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

Purchase: None

Transfer: 0% for 12 mos

APR

  • Min APR: 13.24%, Variable
  • Max APR: 23.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Special Online Offer: $100 customer relationship bonus for U.S. Bank customers.
  • 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in combined net purchases each quarter on two categories you choose*.
  • 2% cash back on your choice of one everyday category (like gas or groceries)*.
  • 1% cash back on everything else*.
  • No limit on total cash back.
  • No annual fee*.
  • Subject to credit approval.

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card  has slightly better long-term value than the  Chase Freedom® because of its higher 5% spending caps. It offers 5% cash back on two bonus categories (you choose from a list that changes quarterly) for up to $2,000 each quarter, 2% on gas, groceries or drugstores and 1% elsewhere with no limit of maximum points you can earn. If the  Chase Freedom®’s bonus categories don’t quite match your spending habits, the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card may be a better fit.

Chase Freedom® vs. Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Apply Now on Discover's secure website

Pros

  • Cash back match at the end of your first year
  • Bonus cash back categories
  • No annual fee
  • 0% on purchases for 12 months and 0% on balance transfers for 12 months

Cons

  • Slightly less merchant acceptance for Discover in US - acceptance outside of US can be an issue
  • No sign-up bonus
  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better

Bonus Offer

Cashback Match™ - We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 12 months

APR

  • APR: 11.24% - 23.24% Variable APR
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Cashback Match™ - We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.
  • Earn 5% cash back in new bonus categories like gas, restaurants, Amazon.com, Sam’s Club and more, on up to $1,500 in purchases every quarter you activate. Plus, unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
  • 100% U.S. based customer service.
  • FICO® Credit Scores for free on statements and online.
  • No annual fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

The Discover it® - Cashback Match™ offers a similar rewards program to the Chase Freedom®, with a $1,500 quarterly cap on bonus spending and an unlimited 1% rewards elsewhere. It doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, like the Chase Freedom® does, but Discover isn’t as widely accepted overseas as Visa and MasterCard, so it might not be a great card to travel with. The Chase Freedom® also offers a sign-up bonus, whereas the Discover it® - Cashback Match™ doesn’t.

Chase Freedom® vs. Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Apply Now on Citibank's secure website

Pros

  • High rewards rate
  • No annual fee
  • 0% if you qualify for 18 mos on transfers

Bonus Offer

Earn cash back twice on every purchase

Annual Fee

$0

Intro APR Promotions

0% balance transfers for 18 months*

APR

  • Min APR: 13.24%, Variable
  • Max APR: 23.24%, Variable
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.99%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.49%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn cash back twice on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases.
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back
  • 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 13.24% - 23.24% based on your creditworthiness
  • Click 'Apply Now' to see the applicable balance transfer fee and how making a balance transfer impacts interest on purchases.
  • No categories to track, no caps on cash back, no annual fee*

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 – 18 month BT offer, instead. Offering 1% back on all purchases when you make them and another 1% when you pay them off, the Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is a low-maintenance card with high rewards. The card also boasts an annual fee of $0 and an introductory APR of 0% for 18 months on balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 13.24% - 23.24% Variable.

Should I get the  Chase Freedom®?

If you’re looking for a no-fuss, flat-rate cash-back card, you might be better off with another offer. But if you spend in line with the Chase Freedom®’s 5% bonus categories, this card could potentially net you an extra $300 a year, assuming you max out your categories every quarter. If that sounds like a good deal to you, consider applying.

At a glance
Annual fees $0
Foreign transaction fee 3%
Rewards program Cash back
Sign-up bonus Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
Verdict: If the bonus categories fit your spending habits, 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 wants to travel abroad
  • Someone looking for a low-maintenance cash-back card

Last updated May 10, 2016. 

Erin El Issa is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @Erin_Lindsay17 and on Google+.

Image via iStock.