Review: Chase Freedom

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Some credit card users have no interest in frequent flier miles or hotel points. The only reward they want is cold, hard cash.

There are two ways to maximize your cash back. The simplest is to offer a fixed return on all purchases, sometimes with bonuses for certain categories of spending. The other way is to earn large bonuses for spending on different categories of merchants that change every three months.

Or you can do a little of both. Chase’s Freedom Visa and Freedom MasterCard allow you to earn 1 percent cash back on most purchases, and 5 percent cash back on bonus categories that change each quarter.

Advantages

  • Earn cash back. Chase is offering $100 cash back after new cardholders spend $500 within the first three months of opening an account. After that, all purchases will earn 1 percent cash back, with 5 percent cash back being offered for spending in categories that change each quarter. For example, you might earn the 5 percent bonus at gas stations and restaurants during one quarter, then other types of businesses in others.
  • Zero-percent promotional financing. New cardholders will also receive a zero-percent promotional APR on both new purchases and balance transfers for 15 months.
  • Chase’s Blueprint program. Freedom cardholders are eligible to participate in Chase’s Blueprint program, a free option that allows you to choose to pay some purchases in full while carrying a balance on others. No other bank offers this feature, and the Blueprint program also includes powerful budgeting and goal-setting tools.
  • No annual fee. But there’s a foreign transaction fee of 3 percent on all purchases processed outside of the United States – unlike the Chase Slate card, which has no fee.

Disadvantages

  • Balance transfer fees. The 15-month promotional financing offer is very competitive – but the 3 percent balance transfer fee really stinks. It’s one of my big gripes. (See Foreign Transaction Costs – and 5 Other Credit Card Pet Peeves.)
  • Bonus cash-back limitations. The 5 percent cash-back bonus seems great, but it only applies to the first $1,500 spent at eligible merchants each quarter. Therefore, cardholders can only receive a maximum of $75 back every three months.
  • Bonus cash-back registration. In addition to limits, Chase also requires that cardholders register each quarter to receive their cash back. I can’t think of any reason Chase makes you do this, other than to restrict payments only to those who have the time and patience to keep track of these things.
  • Standard interest rates. After the promotional financing period expires, customers who carry a balance will pay the standard interest rate of 12.99 to 22.99 percent, depending on the cardholder’s creditworthiness. Like all reward cards, these rates are higher than non-reward products – and there’s really no way to know exactly what your rate will be until your account is opened.

Bottom line

Get it if: You’re looking for a reward card that can earn extra cash back on some purchases.

Forget it if: You don’t want to deal with signing up for promotions each quarter and memorizing which categories are eligible for bonuses.

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