Please note: Chase Freedom® may no longer be available to new applicants.
The Verdict: The Chase Freedom® brand name connotes fun, excitement and independence – primarily the financial variety. But instead of freeing you from budgetary concerns, this card requires hands-on account maintenance to live up to its potential and, even then, would provide less value than numerous other available credit cards for people with good or excellent credit.
The card’s maximum rewards earning rate of 5% back applies only to purchases made in select bonus categories, which rotate on a quarterly basis and users must sign up for each time they change. What’s more, only the first $1,500 you spend across these bonus categories each quarter will accrue rewards at a 5% clip. So, if you are a relatively heavy spender or you forget to sign up for the bonus categories or these categories don’t happen to complement your spending habits, you’ll be stuck earning just the market average of 1% on most of your transactions. There is one good exception, though, at least for a limited time: 5% cash back on groceries for the first year, up to $12,000 spent.
In other words, the Chase Freedom® Credit Card often ends up looking better from a window-shopper’s perspective than an actual user’s, and interested applicants should thus make sure to check out the Competition section of this review for other offers that may prove superior.
Yes, the might of JPMorgan Chase has helped Freedom attain notoriety. But its popularity is not just a product of marketing. The offer does have a number of defined strengths, and we will break them down below.
- No Annual Fee: The absence of an annual fee is perhaps the Freedom Card’s biggest draw, enabling it to serve as an affordable alternative to the highest yielding offers on the market. The absence of fixed costs also helps the offer’s rewards structure avoid too much scrutiny. Expectations tend to be a lot lower and people more forgiving when perks aren’t being paid for directly.
- Booking Flexibility: The fact that Freedom is ostensibly a cash back credit card would seem to indicate that you should redeem for a simple statement credit or check. And while you can certainly do so, the fact that you won’t sacrifice value when redeeming for things like Amazon.com purchases and gift cards differentiates the offer from many other rewards cards. Points tend to be slightly less valuable when redeemed for travel, however, according to WalletHub’s Chase Ultimate Rewards Program Review.
- 0% Financing For 15 Months: All else being equal, we’d all prefer to have 0% financing on new purchases for the first 15 months our accounts are open than not. Combined with the ability to earn rewards on purchases, this interest-free term provides powerful earning potential to new applicants with big-ticket expenses in their future. The one thing you have to be careful about in this regard is to not spend more than you can afford to repay by the conclusion of the 15-month intro term. Revolving a balance beyond this point would trigger finance charges that would quickly negate your rewards balance.
- $200 Initial Bonus: At $500 over the first 3 months, the amount one needs to spend to qualify for Freedom’s sign-up bounty makes it far more accessible than the market's best credit card deals. And the amount you get in return is nearly 50% higher than the market average for a cash bonus. As a result, this is a steal for light-spenders. Plus, cardholders have more bonus rewards waiting for them the first year, as Freedom now gives 5% cash back on the first $12,000 you spend on groceries in the first 12 months your account is open.
We’re giving you the bad news second. Here are Freedom’s biggest blemishes.
- Rotating Bonus Categories: Each quarter, you need to sign up for new bonus categories in order to earn Freedom’s standard 5% cash back rate. You could possibly make this pay off if you’re diligent and strategic, but few people want that kind of burden from their rewards credit card. After all, isn’t meeting monthly due dates hard enough? Ultimately, considering natural human forgetfulness and the fact that none of us needs an excuse to spend more than we normally would, a card with a more straightforward earning structure is likely to be more rewarding for most people over time.
- Bonus Earnings Caps: Not only do bonus earning categories come with a time limit, but their spoils also have a ceiling. You’ll earn 5% only on the first $1,500 you spend across bonus categories each quarter. That means you only even have the potential to rake in $25 per month and $300 per year via Freedom’s eye-catching 5% maximum earning rate.
- 5% Balance Transfer Fee: If the fact that Freedom does not offer a 0% rate on transferred balances does not scare you off, the card’s corresponding surcharge of 5% (min $5) should be a deal breaker.
- 3% Foreign Transaction Fee: It’s kind of ironic. The card is called Freedom, but users are far less free to travel internationally than people packing no foreign transaction fee credit cards, which are rapidly growing in number. While consumers are incentivized to use credit cards instead of cash when traveling abroad by much lower currency-conversion costs and better theft protection, the roughly 90% of cards that charge a 2% to 4% international surcharge complicate the decision. So, if you regularly travel internationally or pay international merchants, you may want to consider a more fee-friendly offer.
Other Things To Consider
There’s more to these account features than meets the eye. And, upon further inspection, they might not seem quite as appealing.
- Not Actually Earning Cash Back: Freedom is fully marketed as a “cash back” credit card. The problem with that is it’s not. Freedom cardholders actually earn points that can be redeemed for cash at a predefined rate (currently, 1 point = 1 cent). So, at the end of the day, you will get cash back. But Chase could always move the goalposts and effectively devalue the points you hold in your account. An issuer can’t do that when earnings are expressed in terms of dollars and cents from the start.
- Contactless Capabilities: Some outlets report being able to use the Chase Freedom Card to directly make contactless payments, but this appears to be a mischaracterization. Freedom, like an increasing number of credit cards these days, merely has an embedded computer chip in compliance with the country’s transition to EMV payment security. That’s probably more detail than you’re interested in, but the short answer is that you cannot waive your card in front of a merchant’s reader and walk out the store – the payment won’t go through and you’ll be shoplifting!Here’s what Chase’s website has to say on the matter:
“Q. Do chip cards use contactless, NFC (Near Field Communication) or blink technology?
A. NFC technology is different from chip technology. At this time, Chase cards with chip cannot be used directly for NFC payments. However, you can load your Chase chip card to a digital wallet that uses NFC technology to make payments.”