Chase’s Freedom cards are virtually identical when it comes to most features, with one notable exception in how they do cash back rewards – the original Freedom card offers an unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases, with a 5% tier for certain bonus categories each quarter, while the Freedom Unlimited does away with that and just gives you 1.5% cash back on everything.
Most people might get the exact same value out of each card, but if we look deeper, there are some nuances between the Chase Freedom and the Freedom Unlimited that might make the difference for discerning cardholders.
Quick Overview of the Chase Freedom Card
Why It’s Good
The Chase Freedom’s primary appeal, in addition to its lack of an annual fee and generous introductory APR period, is that it offers a rotating section of several bonus categories every quarter that earn you 5% in cash back rewards when you use the card. For everything else, you get unlimited 1% cash back on purchases.
This is a fantastic option for cardholders who like a little more micromanagement in their lives – if you really pay attention to the eligibility of your categories (Chase offers a nifty schedule that lets you stay on top of them), you can maximize your rewards quite a bit.
Quick Overview of the Chase Freedom Unlimited
Why It’s Good
Unlike the Chase Freedom Original Recipe, the Freedom Unlimited does away with the cash-back tiers and instead offers a single cash back rewards system of 1.5% back on every single purchase. While it doesn’t give you quite as much back as in the bonus categories, it does give a higher rate than the original Freedom’s baseline rewards.
This is great for Chase cardholders who don’t want to mess around with bonus categories and keeping track of schedules just to get the most out of their card. This is no muss, no fuss – just spend and earn.
Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited Showdown
Honestly, there isn’t much of a difference between the Chase Freedom and the Chase Freedom Unlimited – their fee systems are the same, as is a good number of their rewards. They both offer no annual fee and a nice long introductory APR, as well as the opportunity to pool your rewards for maximum effectiveness through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
However, the major difference, as previously mentioned, is in their cash back rewards program – the Chase Freedom offers a 1% unlimited baseline for every purchase with a 5% bonus tier on rotating categories, while the Freedom Unlimited just lets you earn 1.5% on absolutely everything.
Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: Fees
The Chase Freedom offers no annual fee, and a 0% introductory APR for 15 months. That’s a lot more generous than some other introductory periods (most hover around 12 months), which is incentive enough to get the card for balance transfers or some interest-free spending.
After that introductory APR lapses, however, the variable APR on the card is anywhere from 15.24% to 24.99%. This is a pretty standard APR for most cards, and if your credit is good you may be thankful for the 15.24% interest rate.
Really, the Chase Freedom Unlimited’s fees are virtually the same as the Chase Freedom’s – no annual fee, no interest for 15 months. In this respect, both cards provide an overall good experience for the average consumer, since those are pretty advantageous perks for any card, regardless of rewards.
The variable APR for the Freedom Unlimited is the same as the Freedom – 15.24% to 24.99%. Again, no surprises here; this variable rate can get pretty high, but good credit should keep you away from that dreaded near-25% interest rate.
Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: Rewards
Rewards are where the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited differ most. For the Chase Freedom, you get a baseline 1% cash back reward on all purchases, with no limits. However, the Freedom also offers 5% cash back rewards if you spend on certain bonus categories which rotate every quarter. Chase rotates them according to a set schedule, which you can see on their website.
What’s more, you can pool your rewards through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which allows you to use multiple Chase cards to the best of their ability and combine the rewards to get bigger and better things. If you’ve got more than one Chase product, this is a fantastic reason to get one of these cards.
The Freedom Unlimited’s rewards system is much more simple and straightforward. Instead of offering reward tiers you have to keep track of on a regular basis, you just get 1.5% unlimited cash back on every purchase. That’s a higher baseline than the 1% you get with the Freedom card, but with no chance to earn any more than that.
Also, it must be said that the Freedom Unlimited also participates in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, and pools its rewards just the same. This means that, theoretically, you could have both the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited, and just maximize your rewards by using both judiciously.
Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: Signup Bonuses
Much like the fee structure, the signup bonus offers for the Chase Freedom and the Freedom Unlimited are virtually the same. With the Freedom, you get a $150 cash back bonus for signing up – provided you spend $500 in the first three months of getting the card.
As previously stated, the Freedom Unlimited has the exact same signup bonus as the Chase Freedom – spend $500 within the first three months, get $150 in cash back bonus rewards. That’s a much more approachable signup bonus than others we’ve seen, though the rewards aren’t quite as high.
Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: Drawbacks & Things to Consider
Both cards are basically two variations on a theme, with the exact same configuration save their differing rewards tiers. The Freedom definitely gives you more potential for greater rewards, but that depends on being able to keep track of the spending categories, which might take more work than you’re willing to put in to maintaining your spending.
At first glance, more hands-off cardholders might want to get the Freedom Unlimited, since you get more rewards for your spending (1.5% as opposed to 1%). However, this also means you’re only earning 1.5% for the same spending categories a Freedom cardholder might be earning 5% on. Sure, it’s less work, but there’s more rewards you’re missing out on.
Who should get these cards?
The Chase Freedom is great for cardholders who don’t mind doing a bit more work to make sure they get the most out of their rewards program. While it takes some homework to make sure you spend in their bonus categories on the correct month, that 5% rewards tier is a pretty great incentive to micro-manage your spending.
The fun part of the 5% categories is the exclusivity factor – you don’t hear about which category’s coming up next until shortly before it can be activated. Plus, some of their spending category promotions can offer additional bonuses on top of that 5%; it’s enough to make the beginning of each new quarter feel like Christmas.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited works best for cardholders who want to be a little more hands-off, and don’t worry as much about maximizing their rewards. If you just want to indiscriminately spend on your card and get rewards, the Freedom Unlimited gives you 1.5% as opposed to the Freedom’s 1%. This way, you can heed the card’s namesake and spend freely.
The Chase Freedom fits the budget-conscious cardholder a bit better, since the predictability will allow you to account for every penny you spend without having to keep spreadsheets of all the categories you spent in last month.
Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: Which card wins?
The winner: Both
To be honest, this is a bit of a stalemate. They’re slightly different cards, but the value they offer is pretty much the same. There’s no annual fee, a long no-interest period, and a reasonable sign-up bonus you don’t have to overspend to reach.
In terms of the reward programs, it’s all up to preference – casual cardholders can get the Freedom Unlimited and not worry about categories, while more eagle-eyed customers can keep a look out for changing spending categories and mine them for extra cash back rewards. Whatever your flavor of rewards card, the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited offer roughly equivalent value.
Really, it’s our contention that you find room in your wallet for both, if for no other reason than to take full advantage of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. If you care about getting the most out of your rewards, just use the Freedom only on the bonus spending categories, then use the Freedom Unlimited for everything else. That extra .5% could go a long way.
If anything, the fact there’s no clear winner is a testament to the overall strength of the Freedom line of cards Chase produces. No annual fee and a long APR vacation are really good incentives for a card, and that’s before their robust rewards programs. With that in mind, just pick how intensely you’d like to track your rewards, and go from there – you won’t be sorry.