Chase Freedom versus the Chase Freedom Unlimited: Which cash-back card is right for you?

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  • The Chase Freedom® and Chase Freedom Unlimited® are both cash-back rewards cards with no annual fees.
  • Chase Freedom offers a bonus in categories that rotate every calendar quarter, while Freedom Unlimited gives you a flat rate of cash back on all purchases.
  • When paired with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can convert your cash back into travel points.
  • See Business Insider's list of the best cash-back cards.

The Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited are two popular cash-back cards with no annual fee. The main difference between these two cards is how they earn cash back.

Chase recently announced that it will be phasing out the Freedom and replacing it with the Chase Freedom Flex, which has many of the same features but more bonus categories for earning cash back. (Stay tuned for our comparison of the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Freedom Flex, after the new card launches on September 15).

If you have the Chase Freedom, you'll be able to keep it, but if you don't have it yet, your options are to apply now before it's gone, or to get the Freedom Flex down the line.

Here's everything you need to know to about the differences between the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited.

We're focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won't be worth it if you're paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it's important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

Chase Freedom vs. Freedom Unlimited: the biggest differences

 Chase Freedom®Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Sign-up bonus

$200 back after you spend $500 in the first three months after account opening*

5% cash back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 spent in the first year*

$200 after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening

5% cash back on grocery store purchases on up to $12,000 spent in the first year

Earning cash back

5% cash back on up to $1,500 (then 1%) in combined purchases in rotating bonus categories each quarter of the year (when you activate)

1% cash back on everything else

5% cash back on travel booked through Ultimate Rewards**

3% back on dining and drugstore purchases**

1.5% cash back on everything else

Annual fee$0$0

*Chase Freedom sign-up bonus only available until September 15. 

**starting on September 15

The Freedom and Freedom Unlimited cards have more similarities than differences. The biggest difference is how the cards earn cash-back rewards.

The Chase Freedom card gives you 5% back on purchases in rotating bonus categories on up to $1,500 in quarterly purchases when you activate (then 1%) and 1% everywhere else.

The Freedom Unlimited card comes with a flat 1.5% back on all purchases, but starting on September 15, it will a handful of bonus cash-back categories. You'll earn 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and 3% back on dining and drugstore purchases. These same categories will be available on the new Freedom Flex card — though that card will also offer 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly bonus categories (then 1%), like the Chase Freedom. 

Both cards reward you for every purchase. Freedom Unlimited starts giving you a minimum of 1.5% cash back on every purchase from day one with no additional steps required to earn. Chase requires Freedom cardholders to click an email link or login to activate the 5% bonus every quarter.

Quarterly bonus categories or a minimum of 1.5% back?

The deciding factor for which card is better for you is how you prefer to earn rewards. If you get the maximum bonus every quarter with the Chase Freedom, you can earn 5% back on $6,000 in annual purchases. That's $300 from bonus categories and 1% on everything else.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card's base earning rate of 1.5% gives you an extra 0.5% compared to non-bonus purchases with the Chase Freedom. And if you spend a lot on dining and drugstore purchases, the Freedom Unlimited's 3% cash back on these categories can put you even further ahead. 

The better card depends on how much you spend in total per year and if you would maximize the 5% bonus from Chase Freedom. The trick is that you don't know what categories the Chase Freedom card will use for the 5% bonus in advance. They change every quarter and every year. In my experience, some quarters we use the bonus categories a lot and others not at all. For Q3 of 2020, the Chase Freedom bonus categories are Amazon and Whole Foods. 

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  • 4.8 out of 5 StarsEditor's RatingOUR EDITOR'S RATINGS ARE PRIMARILY BASED ON 3 THINGS: SIMPLICITY, AFFORDABILITY, AND VALUE. OUR CREDIT CARD EDITOR TAKES THOSE FACTORS INTO ACCOUNT, AND COMES UP WITH A RATING TO BEST REFLECT HOW THE CARD PERFORMS IN THAT CRITERIA – RELATIVE TO OTHER PRODUCTS WE'VE REVIEWED.A tooltipOUR EDITOR'S RATINGS ARE PRIMARILY BASED ON 3 THINGS: SIMPLICITY, AFFORDABILITY, AND VALUE. OUR CREDIT CARD EDITOR TAKES THOSE FACTORS INTO ACCOUNT, AND COMES UP WITH A RATING TO BEST REFLECT HOW THE CARD PERFORMS IN THAT CRITERIA – RELATIVE TO OTHER PRODUCTS WE'VE REVIEWED.Chase Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card