Editorial Review

Chase Freedom Unlimited Review: Eye-Popping Cash Back in First Year

You start out earning 3% cash back, then drop down to the still-pretty-good rate of 1.5%. Redeem your cash for any amount, or transfer rewards to other Chase cards.

Claire TsosieAugust 27, 2019

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Our Take

4.1

NerdWallet rating 

The Bottom Line: The beefed-up cash-back rate in the first year can more than make up for the lack of an upfront sign-up bonus, as long as you spend enough.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Annual Fee
$0
Annual Fee
$0
Intro APR
0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • High rewards rate and no minimum redemption

  • No annual fee

  • Intro APR period on Purchases and Balance Transfers

Cons
  • Has foreign transaction fee

  • No bonus rewards categories

  • Requires good/excellent credit

Alternate Pick: Bonus cash back

Chase Freedom®

5% cash back in rotating categories

This card gives you 5% cash back in categories that you activate every three months, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter, and 1% on everything else. No annual fee, plus a sign-up bonus.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR

Regular APR

16.24% - 26.24% Variable APR

Regular APR

15.99% - 25.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

Intro APR

0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months

Intro APR

0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

Full Review

Nowadays an array of credit cards offer 1.5% cash back on every purchase. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is one of them, but it stands out from the crowd by doubling that rate to 3% for new cardholders. (The rate drops to 1.5% after one year or $20,000 in spending, whichever comes first.)

In return for that juiced-up rewards rate, you won't get the $150 lump-sum bonus this card once allowed you to earn. Depending on how much you spend, though, you could still come out ahead (in some cases way ahead). Plus, you'll enjoy a nice, long 0% introductory period, easy rewards earning and hassle-free redemption. And if you carry other credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, you can pool your rewards and redeem for extra value.

All told, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers versatility that puts it at the top of the class among 1.5% cash-back cards.

Not bad for a card with an annual fee of $0.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Basics

Card type: Cash back.

Annual fee: $0.

Cash sign-up bonus: None.

Rewards: 

  • 3% cash back on all purchases in the first year, on up to $20,000 in spending.

  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Interest rate: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR.

Balance transfer fee: 3% or $5, whichever is greater.

Foreign transaction fee: 3%.

CHase ultimate rewards® points

Although the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is marketed as a cash-back card, your spending actually earns Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. For each $1 you spend, you get 1.5 points; points are worth a penny apiece when redeemed for cash back, thus you get 1.5% cash back. (During the new-cardholder promotion, you get 3 points per dollar, equal to 3% cash back.) You can get cash back as a credit on your statement or as a direct deposit. Points may also be redeemed for:

  • Gift cards at 1 cent per point.

  • Travel booked through Chase at 1 cent per point.

  • Amazon purchases at 0.8 cents per point.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is an excellent card on its own, but it's even better as a companion to other cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. More on that below.

Chase Freedom Unlimited® vs. Chase Freedom®

If you're looking at the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, it's only natural to wonder how it compares with the original Chase Freedom®.

Both of the Freedom-branded cards give you cash back, but how you earn it is markedly different. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® pays a flat rate on every purchase, regardless of what you buy or where. The Chase Freedom® pays 5% cash back in bonus categories that change every three months — things like gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants. The 5% is good on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending. All other purchases earn 1% cash back. Plus, it offers a cash sign-up bonus — and a fairly-easy-to-earn one at that.

Which is better for you depends on your spending. If you spend a lot in common household categories like gas and groceries, the Chase Freedom® is probably a more valuable card for you. But if your spending is all over the place, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® could be the stronger option. For a more thorough breakdown of the differences, read NerdWallet's comparison of the two.

Why you might want the Chase Freedom Unlimited®

As a flat-rate cash-back card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® delivers high ongoing value at a low cost. Its best features include:

Outstanding rewards in the first year

The more you put on the card the first year, the greater the value of the initial 3% cash-back rate. If you maxed out your 3% rewards by spending $20,000 in the first 12 months, you'd walk away with $600 in rewards. Compare that with a card that pays 1.5% rewards from the start and offers a $150 sign-up bonus (which was this card's original offer before it went to 3% in the first year). Spending $20,000 under those terms would earn you only $450 in rewards.

No minimum redemptions 

With this card, you can redeem for cash back in any amount — even for as little as 1 cent. Many cash-back cards impose a redemption minimum of $20 or more, which can require you to put thousands of dollars on the card before you're able to access the rewards you've earned. The lack of a minimum means you can redeem every cent you earn.

A solid 0% APR period

The card also comes with a better-than-average introductory APR period for a rewards card: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 16.99% - 25.74% Variable APR.

point transfers to maximize value

Because Chase allows you to transfer its points among cards that earn them, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® can be a cornerstone of a strategy to get maximum value out of every dollar you spend. If you have multiple Chase cards, you can:

Earn more points by splitting your spending between this card and the Chase Freedom®. By using the Chase Freedom® for purchases in the bonus categories and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® on all other spending, you'd boost your overall rewards earnings significantly.

Get more value per point by transferring your rewards to a card with elevated redemption values. As mentioned, the points earned with this card are usually worth a penny apiece. But several Chase cards give you more value per point when you use them to book travel through Chase's online portal, operated by Expedia:

These three cards also allow you to transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to about a dozen airline and hotel loyalty programs, including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Marriott and Hyatt. Depending on how you used your transferred points, you could reap even more value.

Drawbacks of the Chase Freedom Unlimited®

No upfront sign-up bonus

For smaller spenders, the lack of an upfront sign-up offer could be a turnoff. Several other cards offer the same ongoing rewards rate but come with bonuses you can get all at once. If that's important to you, take a look at the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card. This card pays an unlimited 1.5% on every purchase and comes with a sign-up bonus of: One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. Like the Chase card, this one lets you redeem cash back in any amount, with no minimums. It also charges no foreign transaction fees (unlike the Chase Freedom Unlimited®), so it's a better companion for overseas travel.

Which card is a better deal? If you expect to spend at least $10,000 on the card in the first year, then you'll come out ahead with the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. If you see yourself spending less than that, go with the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card.

Not the highest flat-rate cash-back card 

If you’re just interested in cash-back rewards — and not necessarily Chase Ultimate Rewards® — the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is one of the best flat-rate cards on the market. It offers 2% cash back — 1% back on every dollar spent, and 1% back on every dollar paid off — and not just for a limited time. That ongoing, year-after-year rate beats the ongoing 1.5% rate on the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.

No bonus categories

The whole point of a flat-rate cash-back card, of course, is to increase your rewards earnings across the board, not just in one category. But for those who do a lot of spending in one area — say, groceries — a card with bonus categories may offer more overall value. And there's no reason you couldn't use both types of cards: a flat-rate card for everyday purchases, and a card with tiered rewards for purchases within a certain category.

You can find out more about how this cash-back credit card compares versus the competition by visiting our list of best credit cards to apply for.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Is it worth getting?

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a good deal for consumers — especially for those who already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardChase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Freedom®.

With no minimum redemptions and plenty of options for cashing in on rewards, it offers more flexibility than we’ve seen in other Chase cards. It doesn't come with the highest ongoing flat-rate cash-back rate, but it starts out with quite a bang. For consumers looking for a card that offers versatility and value, this one is a strong choice.