Credit cards can be a dangerous gateway to debt, but if you use them smartly you can actually make money with them. In fact, because people tend to keep their credit cards for a long time, credit card companies offer large incentives to get you to try them out.
One of the cards that I’ve been using for the past year is the Chase Freedom card.
It’s a quite popular rewards card than has no annual fee. But the kicker is that Chase is offering a $200 bonus after you spend $500 in purchases in your first 3 months after opening an account. It’s an easy way to fill your wallet.
The promotion is currently running, and it’s the reason I decided to give the card a full review.
Chase Freedom Card Review
The Chase Freedom card is one of the best rewards credit cards in the business, offering fantastic cash back rewards. Namely the rotating 5% back on bonus categories every quarter and 1% back on everything else.
5% Back Categories
The Freedom card is a 5% cash back card, meaning it will give you 5% back in the form of points on purchases in select categories that change every quarter for up to $1,500 spent quarterly. When I first heard the pitch I was a bit worried about the points, but there’s nothing to fear- the points can be redeemed for straight cash in the form of a check or as statement credit. Points can also be converted to airline miles for carriers including United and British Airlines.
The quarterly categories for 2014 were as follows:
- Q1 (January 1 – March 31) : Gas Stations, movie theaters, and Starbucks stores
- Q2 (April 1 – June 30) : Restaurants and Lowe’s improvements stores
- Q3 (July 1 – September 30): Gas Stations and Kohl’s
- Q4 (October 1- December 31) : Amazon.com, Zappos.com, and select Department stores
Aside from the 5% cash back on bonus categories, Chase also gives an unlimited 1% cash back on everything else. There’s no annual fee either.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall
When you get the card and make an online account you’ll be given access to what Chase calls their Ultimate Rewards Mall. It’s an online storefront that showcases various deals that Chase is offering with their partners. It’s not unusual to see up to 10% cash back on certain preferred Chase retailers – including Sears, Barnes & Noble, and Fossil.
It was nice to see as it offered another way to increase my savings. That said, I found that there were times I could save a bit more by buying through FatWallet or eBates instead of through the Chase storefront.
Ease of Acceptance
I’m a young adult, and a recent college grad. My credit history isn’t long by any means. So I was glad to see that I was accepted without any problems. I have friends that I’ve recommended the card to as well, and as far as I know, no one had trouble obtaining it.
This isn’t a selected V.I.P. only card. It’s accessible.
The Main Competitors
The other major 5% cash back players are the Discover It card and the US Bank Cash+ credit card. Here’s how they compare:
Discover It : It’s very similar- there’s a $1,500 quarterly cap on bonus spending and an unlimited 1% rewards for everything else. However, Discover for the most part isn’t as accepted as a Visa or MasterCard, and that makes it lose some it’s value. There was also no sign up bonus when I was looking. Discover does however offer zero foreign transaction fees, which may be enticing to certain people.
US Bank Cash+ : The Cash+ is very comparable to the Freedom card if not beating it in certain aspects. The Cash+ offers an unlimited 5% cash back on two bonus categories that you can choose from quarterly, 2% back on gas, groceries, and drugstores purchase, and 1% back everywhere else. My biggest peeve with the Cash+ is that you have to apply in person at a local branch. Since there are no branch locations near me, I couldn’t give it a shot. I also didn’t like that US Bank doesn’t make it easy to see what the 5% cash back categories are without having an account.
Where Chase Freedom Accels
The Freedom card is a great choice for gas purchases, as it typically includes gas as a 5% bonus category for two quarters of the year. I’m also a big fan of the 5% back with Amazon.com purchases before the holiday season.
The whole online interface is a easy to use and to understand and there’s nothing hidden or deceptive, which I appreciate. US Bank should take note.
Where Chase Freedom Falls Short
Every quarter you need to activate your 5% cash back bonus. Chase sends you e-mails about it, and makes it relatively easy to do but it has to be done. If you’re forgetful or don’t want the few minutes of hassle, then you might be better off with a card that doesn’t require any attention. That said, you can activate the bonus online or by calling the number on the back of the card. I had no troubles with it and consider it really easy.
And it should be obvious, but if you don’t fit in with the Freedom’s bonus categories the whole allure of the card’s 5% cash back will be lost to you. In those cases, I recommend taking a look at other options that are more in tune with your lifestyle purchases.
Why I ended up with the Freedom Card
The Chase Freedom card was one of my first real rewards cards. I initially found it when I was searching for no fee cash back cards and was won over. The signup bonus was the icing on the cake for me.
Now that I’m a bit older and hopefully wiser, I still hold onto the Freedom card and use it substantially. 5% cash back is hard to compete with, especially when it matches with my purchasing habits. If you’re looking for a new credit card, I strongly recommend taking a look at Freedom card. The $200 bonus is running for a limited time and I highly recommend jumping on board before it passes.