Chase Freedom® Review: Bonus Cash-Back Up to 5% for Everyday Purchases
Great for: Bonus cash rewards and no annual fee Chase Freedom®
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 17.24-25.99%. Balance transfer fee is 3% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
- 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
- Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter
- Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
- Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open and there is no minimum to redeem for cash back.
- Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
- No annual fee
Chase Freedom® has become the standard by which all other bonus category credit cards are judged. A lucrative new cardholder bonus only adds more value to this rewards card, which offers up to 5% cash back on spending in certain bonus categories every quarter.
Why you can trust me
I’ve used travel and cash-back credit cards to earn big sign-up bonuses and pay for vacations I’d never be able to afford on my own, all without paying a dime in interest. I owe a lot of it to Chase’s credit cards, which, when used correctly, can be especially rewarding. Below, I’ll share what I’ve learned using Chase’s credit cards, and why Chase Freedom® will always have a key place in my wallet.
- Jump to
- What I like about Chase Freedom®
- What could be improved
- How to best use Chase Freedom®
- How the Chase Freedom® calendar works
- Chase Freedom® categories review
- How to activate Chase Freedom® rewards
- The case for carrying the Chase Freedom® and the Chase Freedom Unlimited®
- What to know about Chase's 5/24 rule
- Is the Chase Freedom® the right credit card for you?
What I like about Chase Freedom®
$150 new cardholder bonus gives a quick start -- Chase Freedom® has an attractive new cardholder bonus. Qualifying new cardholders who spend at least $500 on new purchases in the first three months from account opening (roughly $167 per month) receive a $150 cash-back bonus. That’s like getting 30% cash back on your first $500 of spend.
5% bonus cash back -- This credit card’s killer feature is its bonus rewards. Chase Freedom® pays 5% bonus cash back on up to $1,500 of quarterly spending in rotating categories. Chase’s categories are usually very practical, including things like gas, restaurants, department stores (just in time for the holiday season), and even wholesale clubs. Max out these categories ($6,000 of annual spending) and you’ll earn $300 in cash back each year. If you spend more than $1,500 in one category in one quarter, no problem, any extra spending will accrue rewards at the ordinary 1% rate.
0% intro APR for purchases and balance transfers -- This credit card blurs the lines between a 0% intro APR card and a rewards card, offering a 15-month, 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers. Given it carries a balance transfer fee, it isn’t necessarily the best 0% balance transfer card out there, though.
No annual fee -- Because Chase Freedom® is a no-annual-fee credit card, it’s a great starter cash-back credit card if you want a card you can keep open for life, helping you build credit history that can stay open and reporting on your credit report forever.
No minimum redemptions -- Many cards require you to rack up $25, $50, or even $100 in rewards value before cashing out. Chase Freedom® doesn’t have a minimum redemption requirement for statement credit redemptions, so you can make a redemption whenever you want in amounts as small as you want. (A statement credit reduces the balance you owe.)
What could be improved
Base 1% cash-back rate -- Though Chase Freedom® rewards you handsomely with a 5% cash-back rate on the first $1,500 of spending in quarterly categories, its base rate is less impressive at just 1%. Many cash-back credit cards offer a higher rate on all spending.
Automated category bonuses -- Most category bonus cards require you to opt-in to receive bonus rewards by clicking a specific link in an email or in your online account. This card isn’t an exception. We’d prefer a card that simply gave you 5% cash back without requiring you to jump through any hoops, but we acknowledge that this is standard industry practice. High rewards rarely come without any effort.
How to best use Chase Freedom®
When it comes to Chase Freedom®, there are only four best practices to follow to ensure you get the most value from the card.
- Collect the new cardholder bonus -- Qualifying cardholders
should be sure to spend at least $500 in the first three months after account
opening to collect the $150 cash-back bonus for opening this card. The sign-up
bonus is one of the best among no-annual-fee cards, so you won’t want to miss
- Activate your bonus categories -- You don’t automatically
receive 5% cash back for spending in certain categories. To start earning bonus
cash back, make sure you log into your account and opt-in for the bonus category
once every three months. Otherwise, your spending will only earn at the base
cash-back rate of 1%.
- Avoid carrying a balance to maximize the benefits -- No
amount of cash back is ever worth carrying a balance. While 5% cash back is
great, carrying a balance for as little as three months can result in interest
charges that exceed what you earn in rewards. Don’t chase small amounts of cash
back at the cost of paying more in interest. It never makes sense.
- Prioritize your spending to earn higher rewards -- This card
is most valuable when used for spending in bonus categories that qualify for 5%
cash back. Because of its relatively low base cash-back rate of 1%, you’d be
wise to put non-category spending on a card that offers a higher rewards yield.
How the Chase Freedom® calendar works
The appeal of this card is the big 5% bonus cash back on spending in rotating categories. Every three months, spending at different merchants is rewarded with bonus cash back on up to $1,500 of spending in that category.
To give you an example of how the Chase Freedom® calendar works, I created a table with the categories for 2018 and 2019.
|January through March||Gas stations, internet, cable, and phone service, Chase Pay, Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay||Gas stations, tolls, drugstores|
|April through June||Grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target), PayPal and Chase Pay||TBD|
|July through September||Gas stations, Lyft, Walgreens||TBD|
|October through December||Department stores, wholesale clubs, and Chase Pay||TBD|
Data source: Chase.
New categories are unveiled about two weeks before the start of the quarter in which they begin. So, the fourth-quarter categories are unveiled in mid-September, for example, at which time you can enroll to start earning as soon as the next quarter begins.
Chase Freedom® categories review
Category cards can be hit or miss, as some have bonuses that aren’t very timely or lack relevance for card users. But one thing that many people like about Chase Freedom® is that its categories tend to be practical and timely, rewarding you for spending in categories that are seasonally relevant.
For example, gas is regularly a 5% bonus category during the long summer driving season. In the fourth quarter, during heavy holiday shopping periods, department stores, wholesale clubs, and even Amazon purchases have made an appearance as categories that offer 5% cash back.
In recent years, grocery stores have been part of a cash-back category every single year, usually in the first or second quarter, which is extremely popular with users because its relatively easy to spend a lot of money (and thus maximize your rewards) at grocery stores. Even if you only max out the grocery category once per year, this card will reward you with $75 in cash-back rewards for $1,500 of spending.
How to activate Chase Freedom® rewards
Keep in mind that getting the 5% bonus on certain categories is not automatic. You’ll need to do one of the following things once every three months to ensure you are always enrolled in the 5% bonus category for that period.
Enroll online -- Once you have your card, simply visit chase.com/freedom once every three months to click to enroll in each quarter’s bonus.
Phone in -- Call the number on the back of your card and ask the customer service representative to activate your bonus cash back.
Make an in-person request -- Visit a Chase branch where any personal banker can activate your bonus upon request.
Use an ATM -- Cardholders who have a Chase checking account can activate their 5% cash-back categories while making a cash withdrawal. It only takes a click.
You can set up reminders in your Chase account to alert you to enroll when a new category is approaching. Otherwise, it may be helpful to add reminders to your calendar at the end of March, June, September, and December, so you never miss out on any spending in bonus categories. Without these bonus categories, Chase Freedom® is a pretty unimpressive cash-back card.
The case for carrying the Chase Freedom® and the Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Chase Freedom®’s base cash-back rate is relatively low. Overall cash back can be increased by using Chase Freedom® for bonus-category purchases and Chase Freedom Unlimited® for all other purchases, to earn 1.5% cash back, not a lower 1%.
Other than different cash-back rates, the two credit cards are practically the same in terms of their features, including sign-up bonuses, 0% intro APR offers, and $0 annual fees. If choosing one, the decision may ultimately come down to bonus category spending habits and your willingness to be more hands-on with your credit cards by activating bonus categories each quarter. Read our full Chase Freedom Unlimited® review to learn more.
|Chase Freedom®||Chase Freedom Unlimited®|
On Chase's Secure WebsiteRead Full Review
On Chase's Secure WebsiteRead Full Review
|Bonus: $150 After Spending $500 Within Three Months||Bonus: $150 after spending $500 within three months|
|Rewards Program: 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate, 1% on all else||Rewards Program: Unlimited 1.5% cash back|
|Intro APR: Purchases: 0%, 15 months Balance Transfers: 0%, 15 months||Intro APR: Purchases: 0%, 15 months Balance Transfers: 0%, 15 months|
|Regular APR: 17.24%-25.99%, variable||Regular APR: 17.24% - 25.99%, variable|
|Annual Fee: $0||Annual Fee: $0|
|Show More||Show More|
What to know about Chase's 5/24 rule
Chase’s lineup of credit cards boasts top-tier bonuses for new cardholders and excellent rewards yields on every dollar of spending. For this reason, Chase can afford to be a little pickier about who it approves. To that end, Chase has what’s known as the “5/24 rule,” where people who have opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months will be automatically denied if they apply for a Chase credit card.
People who are new to rewards credit cards may want to start with Chase for precisely this reason: It’s one of the few card issuers that has strict rules designed to thwart people who are serial card openers. If you discover Chase isn’t for you, moving to another credit card issuer is easy, but it isn’t so easy to open a Chase card after testing the waters with other card issuers.
Is the Chase Freedom® the right credit card for you?
Chase Freedom is an excellent no-annual-fee credit card that is a good fit for most people who want a bonus category card on their roster. If the statements below apply to you, you’d be a good candidate for the card:
You don’t mind a little work -- If you’re the forgetful type, this card may not be the best pick, since it only offers 5% cash back in certain categories when you opt-in to the category. Realistically, this requires all of three minutes of work every few months, but if you’re prone to forget, a card that offers cash back without any opt-in requirements would be a better pick.
You have other rewards cards -- Chase Freedom® fits better as a specialist than an all-around credit card. The 5% cash back on the first $1,500 in quarterly spending in bonus categories is fantastic, but its 1% cash-back rate on all other spending is not. This card would work well when paired with a card that offers 1.5% or 2% cash back on all spending. Use this card for bonus categories, and the other cash-back card for everything else.
You have a premium Chase travel card -- This isn’t a prerequisite, but having either the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® can multiply the value of this card. That’s because Chase Freedom® technically earns Ultimate Rewards points (1 point equals $0.01 of cash back), which can be transferred to Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® and redeemed for travel at a higher rate where each point is redeemable for $0.015 (Reserve) or $0.0125 (Preferred) of travel value. Put another way, the 5% bonus cash back is effectively 7.5% in travel value when transferred to the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or 6.25% in travel value when transferred to the Chase Sapphire Preferred®.