Chase Freedom Unlimited Card Review: Best Cash Back Card?
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a cash rewards credit card that earns 1.5% cash back on nearly every purchase you make and also offers a 3% first-year sign-up bonus.
This card is among the best that Chase offers because it has a generous flat rate and a lack of a penalty APR, which is something that hinders competing cards that offer equal or higher rewards than the Freedom Unlimited.
In this review, we’re going to help you understand if this card is the right choice for you by breaking down how its rewards work, its rates and fees and how it compares to other cash back cards. We’ll also talk about the card’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as who we think will enjoy this card the most.
Pros: Simple rewards structure and the ability to transfer points to Chase’s travel partner transfer program.
Cons: APR is higher than other cash back cards.
Estimated Yearly Cash Rewards: $450
|Sign-Up Bonus||Annual Fee||Regular APR|
|$150||$0||17.24% to 25.99%|
|Rewards Rate: Unlimited 1.5x points on everything|
The Chase Freedom Unlimited provides a 1.5% rewards rate. What this means is that every time you use your card to purchase something, Chase calculates 1.5% of the transaction total and deposits it to your rewards balance in the form of points.
These points have several different functions we’ll describe in the conclusion but, for now, we’ll focus on the fact that you can convert the points into cash.
Chase gives you a couple of options for redeeming your points, the easiest of which is converting them to cash and adding that cash as a credit to your card statement. So, if you have 15,000 points, you can convert them to $150 and send them to your credit card. The $150 will show up as a rewards credit.
You can also send the money to a bank account or get the money via a check. If you’re after the cash value of the points, the most expedient way of getting the money is by sending it to your credit card. If you’re after the travel aspect of your points, we’ll explain in the conclusion how you can do so.
A few things to remember as you’re exploring this card’s cash rewards is that any fees you pay (late fees, foreign transaction fees, interest) won’t earn cash rewards.
Now, the second main way you can earn cash back is by taking advantage of Freedom Unlimited’s 3% first-year bonus. What this means is that all purchases you make the first year will get a 3% rewards rate instead of a 1.5% rewards rate.
This program is similar to the Discover first-year rewards match but with one important difference: Chase caps your 3% bonus at $20,000 spending. Once you surpass $20,000 in spending, your rewards rate drops to 1.5%.
What does that mean for you? Well, the easiest way to explain it is that the average household will hit that $20,000 limit, so your sign-up bonus will be $300.
As you’ll find out in the comparison section, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is one of the best cards to use in the first year. However, the dollars the card can earn you are only half the story.
Every credit card has a series of interest rates and fees that will cost you a lot of money if you aren’t careful. We’re going to give you a list of the Chase Freedom Unlimited’s rates and fees, the explain what they mean to your everyday life:
- Purchase and balance transfer APR: 17.24% to 25.99%
- Cash advance APR: 27.24%
- Cash advance fee: $10 or 3% (whichever is bigger)
- Balance transfer fee: $5 or 3% (whichever is bigger)
- Late/returned payment fee: Up to $39
- Annual fee: None
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau revealed that around 43% of people who have a credit card carry a balance. And, if your credit scores are between 670 and 720 (the average is around 695 to 700), then you’re probably carrying a total balance of around $8,000.
This is important because any time you don’t pay off a credit card in full at the due date, the credit card company—Chase, in this case—will charge you an interest rate. If you get the lowest interest rate (“APR”) on this card, then carrying an $8,000 balance every day for a year will cost you $1,379.20, or more than $100 a month in payments.
Another way to put it is that for every $1,000 you carry as a balance every day, you’ll pay around $172. per year in interest:
- $1,000 daily balance: $172 yearly interest
- $2,000 daily balance: $344 yearly interest
- $3,000 daily balance: $516 yearly interest
- $4,000 daily balance: $688 yearly interest
- $5,000 daily balance: $860 yearly interest
- $6,000 daily balance: $1,032 yearly interest
- $7,000 daily balance: $1,204 yearly interest
- $8,000 daily balance: $1,379 yearly interest
As you can see, carrying a balance can cost you a lot of money. And, considering that you can earn about $425 a year spending $30,000 with this card, the money you pay in interest will exceed what you earn in rewards once you carry a daily balance of $2,500.
Cash back cards are a favorite among consumers because they’re far less complicated than travel credit cards. However, there are multiple credit cards on the market that offer seemingly similar rewards and bonuses.
The following chart will help you understand where the Chase Freedom Unlimited stands amid the competition:
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||AmEx Blue Cash Preferred||Discover It Cash Back||Citi Double Cash||Bank of America Cash Rewards||Capital One Quicksilver||Chase Freedom|
|Intro cash offer||Match on first-year cash back up to $20,000 (avg. of $300)||$200 after $1,000 spend||Match on first-year cash back (avg. of $425)||None||$200 after $1,000 spend||$150 after $500 spend||$150 after $500 spend|
|Rewards rate||1.5%||6%/ 3%/ 1%||1% with 5% quarterly bonuses||2%||3%/ 2%/ 1%||1.5%||1% with 5% quarterly bonuses|
|Yearly rewards on $30K spending||$450||$605||$425||$600||$422||$450||$425|
|Intro APR||0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers||0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers||0% for 14 months on purchases and balance transfers||0% for 18 months on balance transfers||0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers||0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers||0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers|
|Permanent APR||17.24%–25.99%||15.24%–26.24% (Penalty APR up to 29.99%)||14.24%–25.24%||14.49%–24.49% (Penalty APR up to 29.99%)||16.24%–26.24% (Penalty APR up to 29.99%)||16.24%–26.24%||17.24%–25.99%|
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is one of two cards in this chart that offers matched first-year rewards. The Discover it Cash Back is the other. As we mentioned earlier in this review, the Discover card has the advantage of not imposing a rewards cap in the first year.
However, Discover’s regular cash back rate is 1%. It offers 5% rewards in rotating categories but, according to our research, those boosted rewards still can’t push the Discover’s yearly rewards total past the Freedom Unlimited.
Perhaps the card most similar to the Freedom Unlimited is the Quicksilver. Both cards have a 1.5% rewards rate and the same intro APR.
However, the Quicksilver has a better low APR, which is a valuable distinction for someone with excellent credit scores and who tends to carry a balance. The Freedom Unlimited, however, provides a better sign-up bonus: $300 versus $150.
Overall, we think the Citi Double Cash is the superior choice for earning rewards. However, we believe the Freedom Unlimited is among the best of the rest. It doesn’t have a penalty APR like the Bank of America Cash Rewards and the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express and its rewards earning ability is better than the Chase Freedom.
Based on our research, we think that the Chase Freedom Unlimited is as good a cash back card you’re going to find that isn’t the Citi Double Cash. The card has a great combination of a sign-up bonus and yearly rewards, so much so that the first-year rewards you earn with the card will most likely hover around $600.
However, the card’s best interest rate is still a full percentage point higher than the next card. We’d say this is the card’s great disadvantage.
These strengths and weaknesses reveal a bit about who is good for this card.
If you’re someone who tends to carry a balance on your credit card and you have good enough credit (700 and above) to get a card’s best APR, then the Freedom Unlimited may not be right for you. The Discover card’s best APR is a full three percent lower than the Chase card.
However, if you’re someone who loves travel and already has a Chase Sapphire Preferred, then this is an excellent card for you. We mentioned this earlier and we’ll explain it here.
The points you earn with the Freedom Unlimited are points you can transfer to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program you have access to with the Sapphire Preferred. This is key because the Freedom Unlimited’s base cash rewards rate of 1.5% is better than all other cash cards.
Once your points are in that program, you can use them to book travel through Chase or transfer them to Hyatt, Marriott, Southwest, United and other travel partners to get free travel. The value of travel redemption tends to exceed the actual cash value of the points. For example, a $300 flight may only cost 20,000 points.
Also, if you’re someone who tends to pay late, the Freedom Unlimited is a solid choice because it won’t increase your APR after a late payment like other cards will.
» Recommended Reading: Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2019