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Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited

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This article was last updated Dec 30, 2019. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

The Chase Freedom® and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® might have similar-sounding names, but they have very different rewards structures. The former earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate while the latter earns a flat-rate cashback rate on every purchase. So which would be the best fit for you? We’ll help you figure it out.

In this article:

At a glance

Here’s what you can expect from both cards:

Chase Freedom® Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Annual fee $0 $0
Sign-up bonus Earn a $150 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
Rewards Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months. Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. 1.5% cash back offer.
0% intro APR on purchases 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months. After, 16.49% - 25.24% variable. 0% Intro APR for 15 months. After, 16.49% - 25.24% variable.
0% intro APR on balance transfers 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months. After, 16.49% - 25.24% Variable. 0% Intro APR for 15 months. After, 16.49% - 25.24% Variable.
Balance transfer fee 3% when you transfer during the first 60 days of account opening, with a minimum of $5 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5, then either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

Chase Freedom® pros and cons

  • Earn a $150 Bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

  • 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months

  • 16.49% - 25.24% Variable

Highlights
  • 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
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
  • No annual fee
  • 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?

See additional details for Chase Freedom®

More Info

Pros

5% cash back. This is one of the highest cashback rates available. Here’s what got 5% in 2019:

  • January-March: Gas stations, tolls and drugstores.
  • April-June: Grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target) and home improvement stores.
  • July-September: Gas stations and select streaming services.
  • October-December: Department stores and purchases made using PayPal or Chase Pay.

And here’s what’s in store for the first quarter of 2020:

  • January-March: Gas stations, internet, cable and phone services, as well as select streaming services.

Chance to spend less, earn more. If you hit the 5% spending maximum of $1,500 each quarter, you’ll earn $300 cash back on an annual spend of $6,000. To hit $300 cash back on a card that earns a flat rate of 1.5%, you’d need to spend $20,000.

Cons

You have to activate quarterly categories. If you don’t remember to activate the 5% categories each quarter, you’re only going to earn 1% cash back on your purchases.

Categories aren’t announced early. Unlike its competitor, the Discover it® Cash Back, for which the 5% categories are announced at the beginning of each year, the Chase Freedom®’s 5% categories aren’t announced until right before each quarter. This means you can’t plan very far ahead with this card — though you can look at past 5% categories to get an idea of what’s been included before.

5% cash back is capped. If you spend more than $1,500 in the 5% category, your cashback rate will drop to 1% until the next quarter. That means you can get a maximum of $75 cash back each quarter at the higher rate.

Chase Freedom Unlimited® pros and cons

  • 0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

  • 16.49% - 25.24% Variable

Highlights
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49 - 25.24%.
  • 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5
  • No annual fee
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open

See additional details for Chase Freedom Unlimited®

More Info

Pros

Flat-rate cash back. If your spending doesn’t match up well with the Chase Freedom®’s quarterly categories, you may prefer the Chase Freedom Unlimited®’s 1.5% cash back offer.

No categories to activate. Even though activating quarterly categories with the Chase Freedom® can be done in just a few minutes online, you still have to remember to do it every quarter. With the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, there are no categories to activate.

Pairs well with non-Chase cards. If you like Chase rewards, we’ve got some tips in the “using both cards” section on how to maximize what you earn. But the Chase Freedom Unlimited® can also pair well with non-Chase cards. For example, you could use a card, such as the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, to earn a higher cashback rate at the grocery store, then use the Chase Freedom Unlimited® for purchases the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express doesn’t earn a higher rate on.

Cons

Potentially less cash back. The great thing about the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is simplicity — but there’s no denying you’re missing out on a higher cashback rate if you go with this card. If your spending matches up with the Chase Freedom®’s 5% categories even part of the time, the rotating category card has the potential to earn more cash back for you.

Using both cards

If you’re willing to juggle two cards, you can maximize your cash back by using both. For example, you could use the Chase Freedom® when your needs line up with a 5% category and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® at all other times.

Those who are willing to keep three cards in their wallet can get even more value by making use of the Chase Ultimate Rewards® ecosystem. Rewards earned on both the  Chase Freedom® and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® can be transferred to either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Then, those points can be redeemed for more value when booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

This strategy requires using three different cards for a variety of categories. For example, you could use your Sapphire card for travel and dining purchases, your Chase Freedom® for purchases that earn the 5% rate, and your Chase Freedom Unlimited® for everything else. It also requires getting all three cards, which could take time depending on your 5/24 status. The unwritten Chase 5/24 rule means if you’ve been approved for five or more personal credit cards from any issuer within the past two years, Chase will likely deny your application.

One option for getting a Chase card you want without increasing your 5/24 count could be to do a product change. For example, if you got the Chase Slate® for a balance transfer, and you’ve now paid off the debt you transferred, you could request that card be upgraded to the Chase Freedom® or the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. (You probably won’t be eligible for a sign-up bonus if you do this.)

Last but not least, it’s important to note that pairing a cashback card with a Sapphire card means you’ll have to pay for a card with an annual fee. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card charges an annual fee of $95, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve® charges an annual fee of $550.

The bottom line

Put simply, the Chase Freedom Unlimited®’s rewards program is easier to use, but the Chase Freedom® has the potential to earn you more cash back at a lower spend amount. And, if you carry either the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can get more value out of your cash back by turning it into Ultimate Rewards points and redeeming them for travel.

If you don’t want to bother with travel points, don’t worry — both the Chase Freedom® and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® allow you to redeem for cash back with no minimum redemption amount. You can’t go wrong with either one if you need a good cashback card.


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