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Chase Freedom Review: Who Wouldn’t Want 5% Cash Back?

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Best Cash Back Credit Cards

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 even qualify 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
  • 5% rewards on rotating categories
  • Access to Chase’s Ultimate Rewards site to earn more cash back

Cons

  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better
  • A foreign transaction fee

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

Wondering whether you qualify?
Use NerdWallet’s tool to prequalify for Chase credit cards.


Chase Freedom®: Benefits and basics

The Chase Freedom® offers 5% cash back in bonus categories that change every quarter, on up to $1,500 spent quarterly. The current bonus categories:

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

All other spending (including in the bonus categories once you hit the $1,5000 cap) earns an unlimited 1% cash back. The card has an introductory APR of 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. Here’s where it shines. 

Bonus categories match everyday spending

The 5% bonus cash back is available on broad categories that a lot of people spend a lot of money on; typical categories include gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, drugstores and wholesale clubs. For many cardholders, earning these rewards doesn’t require many spending acrobatics.

One caveat: You must opt in to the bonus category each quarter by “activating” it online or through the card’s mobile app. Forget to do it, and you’ll be stuck with 1% rewards even in the bonus category. 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.

GOOD CREDIT may be ENOUGH

Many top rewards credit cards are available only to those with excellent credit and 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. If you’re unsure, check out NerdWallet’s tool to prequalify for Chase credit cards.

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 pAirs well with the Sapphire cards

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ earn Ultimate Rewards points, which are typically worth 1 cent apiece. But if you redeem them for travel booked through Chase, the value of each point jumps to 1.25 cents with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and 1.5 cents with the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠. The Chase Freedom® isn’t eligible for this perk — but if you have either of the Sapphire-branded cards, you can transfer your  Chase Freedom® rewards to it. If you do this, and then redeem for travel, your effective rewards rate gets even better:

  • If you transfer to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, your effective rate becomes 6.25% in the bonus categories and 1.25% everywhere else.
  • If you transfer to the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠, your effective rate becomes 7.5% in the bonus categories and 1.5% everywhere else.

Chase Freedom®: Pitfalls and other possibilities

Even great credit cards aren’t a perfect fit for everyone. Consider these potential drawbacks before committing.

Rotating categories can be a hassle for some

Citibank Citi® Double Cash Card Credit Card
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The  Chase Freedom® bonus categories change every three months, and tracking and activating them can be tedious — 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. The Citi®Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is a low-maintenance card with high rewards. It gives you 1% back on all purchases when you make them, and another 1% back when you pay them off. The annual fee is $0, and you get an introductory APR of 0% for 18 months on balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 13.24% - 23.24% Variable.

It’s not good for traveling abroad

Capital One Quicksilver Credit Card
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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. The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card gives you a flat 1.5% cash back on every purchase, and it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. The annual fee is $0, and there’s a solid sign-up bonus that’s within reach for most people: One-time $100 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months of approval. You even get an introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 9 months, and then the ongoing APR of 13.24% - 23.24% Variable APR.

inflexible Bonus categories

The  Chase Freedom®’s bonus categories will be right for many people, but not for all. Here are two other 5% cards that might be worth a look:

US Bank Cash+(TM) Visa Signature(R) Card Credit Card
Learn More
The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card  might deliver slightly better long-term value than the  Chase Freedom® for the right consumer. That’s because of its higher bonus spending cap. It offers 5% cash back on two bonus categories you choose from a list that changes quarterly, on up to $2,000 combined spending each quarter; an unlimited 2% on an everyday category you choose (such as gas or groceries); and 1% elsewhere.

Discover It Credit Card
Learn More
The Discover it® - Cashback Match™ offers a similar rewards program to the Chase Freedom®. You earn 5% cash back in quarterly categories, on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending. (You must activate the categories.) All other spending earns 1% cash back. You get an introductory APR of 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 11.24% - 23.24% Variable APR. And there’s a unique bonus for newcomers: Cashback Match™ - We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.

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.

Last updated Nov. 23, 2016. 

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

Chase Freedom®

Apply Now on Chase's secure website

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 5% rewards on rotating categories
  • Access to Chase’s Ultimate Rewards site to earn more cash back

Cons

  • If you value simplicity, a flat rate cash back card may be better
  • A foreign transaction fee

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