Chase offers an impressive lineup of credit cards, ranging from premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve to cashback credit cards and business credit cards.
Two card choices you might be weighing are the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited. These cashback credit cards are both highly rated and offer impressive rewards. Comparing them by names alone, however, can easily lead to mistaking them to be the same card, which isn’t the case. Aside from sharing similar names, they also have a few other features in common.
- Have no annual fee
- Offer 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
- Offer generous cashback rewards
Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited
While there are many similarities between these two cashback credit cards, there are also a number of differences that set the two apart, especially in the earning structure. Here’s a side-by-side comparison:
|Chase Freedom||Chase Freedom Unlimited|
|Rewards rate||5% cash back in rotating bonus categories you activate (up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other purchases||Earn 3% cash back in the first year (up to $20,000 spent) then 1.5% unlimited cash back on all other purchases|
|Sign-up bonus||$150 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months of account opening||Earn 3% cash back on all purchases in the first year (up to $20,000 in spend)|
|Intro APR||0% for 15 months||0% for 15 months|
|Foreign transaction fee||3%||3% of the amount of each transaction in U.S. dollars|
|Free credit score?||Yes — through Chase Credit Journey||Yes — through Chase Credit Journey|
|Recommended credit||Excellent, Good||Excellent, Good|
|Plastic or metal?||Plastic||Plastic|
|Best for:||Maximizing cashback rewards in select 5% bonus categories||Simple cash back on every purchase without any fuss|
Which Chase Freedom card is better?
While the value of each Chase Freedom card depends on your spending habits, we’ll assume earning more rewards is the determining factor, since the biggest difference between the two cards lies in the reward rate.
To showcase the differences, we put the two cards head to head, using someone who spends $15,000 annually for our example.
|Welcome bonus||$150 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months of account opening|
|Reward rate||5% cash back in rotating bonus categories you activate (up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other purchases|
|Year 1 cash back||$540 (with bonus)|
|Year 2 cash back||$390|
Chase Freedom Unlimited
|Welcome bonus||Earn 3% cash back on all purchases in the first year (up to $20,000 in spend)|
|Reward rate||Earn 3% cash back in the first year (up to $20,000 spent) then 1.5% unlimited cash back on all other purchases|
|Year 1 cash back||$450|
|Year 2 cash back||$225|
If both cards are leveraged for maximum rewards, the Chase Freedom ultimately offers the most cash back long term.
The only way the Freedom Unlimited comes out ahead in this scenario is if the annual spending is higher, and it would only be for the first year.
For instance, a $20,000 annual spend will yield a first-year cashback amount of $600 with the Freedom Unlimited vs. $590 with the Chase Freedom. In year two, however, the Freedom Unlimited drops to $300, while the Chase Freedom only drops to $440.
It’s important to remember that you must meet the $500 minimum spending requirement to earn the $150 sign-up bonus with the Chase Freedom within the first three months. If you don’t think you’ll hit that mark, the 3% you’ll earn with the Freedom Unlimited is a strong reward rate for that first year.
After these bonus incentives drop off after the first year, however, it’s hard to compete with the 5% bonus categories if you can max out each quarter. But that’s also the caveat; if you don’t utilize the bonus categories to their fullest, you risk losing out on some of the rewards-earning power of the card.
How to choose which is right for you
While there’s a difference in earning potential between the two cards, there are some other important factors to take into consideration when comparing the Chase Freedom vs Freedom Unlimited to help you determine which Chase Freedom card is better for you.
The Chase Freedom card utilizes a cashback calendar that changes every quarter and isn’t announced until shortly before the window opens to activate it, so you don’t always know what’s going to be offered. Although the calendar often rotates between popular categories like grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and department stores, it’s impossible to know, and that makes it difficult to plan ahead.
If you’re someone who dines out often but “restaurants” never appears on the calendar, you’ll be stuck earning 1% instead of the 1.5% (or 3% in the first year) you could have been earning with the Freedom Unlimited. Also keep in mind that the bonus categories usually only show up for one quarter, limiting the 5% you would earn dining out to only three months out of the year.
The changing bonus categories with the Chase Freedom do have their appeal, though. It can be exciting to see what category is announced next, especially if they align perfectly with your spending habits. But if you’re not interested in having to activate a new cashback category every three months, the straightforward, flat-rate earning structure offered by the Chase Freedom Unlimited might be more attractive.
Best first-year value: Chase Freedom Unlimited
If you’re able to max out the $20,000 limit, the Chase Freedom Unlimited offers the best value for the first year. Even if you don’t hit the $20,000 limit, value can be found in its predictability and straightforward earning structure.
If you want a simple way to earn cash back: Chase Freedom Unlimited
The reward structure you get with the Chase Freedom Unlimited is simpler because it doesn’t require you to track and activate bonus categories each quarter, allowing you to go about your life without any added responsibility.
The flat-rate structure of the Chase Freedom Unlimited card is ideal for those who want to make sure they’re earning cash back every time they swipe their card.
If you’re willing to put in extra effort to maximize rewards: Chase Freedom
It requires some additional effort on your part, but if you’re willing to track the bonus categories and make sure to activate them when the time comes, the Chase Freedom offers an overall higher earning potential.
Though you might earn more if you hit the $20,000 threshold of the Freedom Unlimited in the first year, the Chase Freedom can earn you more in subsequent years — as long as you max out each bonus category. The extra effort might also mean revolving your spending around the predetermined reward categories. Here's a look at this year's bonus categories:
|Chase Freedom 2019 bonus rewards categories|
|Q1 (Jan. 1 - March 31)||Gas stations, tolls, drugstores|
|Q2 (April 1 - June 30)||Grocery stores (not including Walmart and Target purchases), Home improvement stores|
|Q3 (July 1 - Sept. 30)||Gas stations, streaming services (includes Netflix, Hulu, Sling, Vudu, FuboTV, Apple Music, SiriusXM, Pandora, and Spotify)|
|Q4 (Oct. 1 - Dec. 31)||TBD|
Can I have both Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited?
Yes, having both Freedom cards can be a great option if you can’t decide between the two, and neither card charges an annual fee.
You’ll have to be a bit more strategic with your spending, but you should be able to cover a large amount of your purchases. Maximize the Chase Freedom for its 5% bonus categories whenever possible, and use the Freedom Unlimited to earn higher flat-rate rewards on everything else.
You can also convert your rewards to Ultimate Rewards points by transferring them to a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Can I switch from Chase Freedom to Freedom Unlimited?
Yes, Chase allows product changes, though there might be stipulations. It’s best to contact Chase directly so they can determine your eligibility to switch between products.
Is there a way to earn even more cash back?
Yes, in addition to the primary rewards of both the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can earn bonus points when you “Shop Through Chase” via their online shopping portal. With over 350 stores to shop at, you can earn between one to 15 bonus points per dollar spent each time you make a purchase, making it a great way to earn extra cash back on items you plan to buy anyway.