Key takeaways

  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited® has a straightforward rewards structure, numerous redemption options and a great welcome bonus for new cardholders.
  • This card also comes with access to Shop Through Chase, which allows you to earn bonus rewards with participating retailers.
  • This card pairs well with other Chase credit cards since you can pool your Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

I waited until after I graduated from college to apply for my first credit card. Once I had a full-time job and was living on my own for the first time, I decided it was time to start building my credit. Plus, now that I wasn’t living with my mom and dad anymore, I couldn’t borrow their credit card to make online purchases.

So, I went to my credit union and asked to apply for a credit card. Because I had just started my first job, the credit union was only willing to give me a card with a $500 limit. After a year passed, I went back with proof of stable income. In doing so, I received a credit limit increase, but I was still only looking at a $1,000 limit.

I’m not a big spender, but this wasn’t cutting it. When it came time to book plane tickets for an upcoming vacation, I found myself having to borrow my parents’ credit card once again because my limit was too small to book the tickets. That’s when I knew it was time to find a new credit card.

Enter Chase Freedom Unlimited®*, which comes with no annual fee and a simple rewards structure. With this card, I was able to dip my toes into handling a larger limit, and I began learning how I could take advantage of the credit card’s many benefits.

Here’s why I chose the Chase Freedom Unlimited as my first “real” credit card:

It’s low maintenance and easy to use

The Chase Freedom Unlimited doesn’t require you to track things like rotating categories or annual fee deadlines, which made it an ideal credit card when I was learning how to navigate using credit responsibly. The lack of an annual fee was also a big draw for me because I wasn’t fully confident that my fairly low spending habits would make it possible to rack up enough rewards to balance out paying an annual fee. Additionally, my salary was on the lower side at the time, so my spending was, too.

It has a straightforward rewards structure

With this cash back card, the rewards structure is very straightforward. You’ll get:

  • 5 percent cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel
  • 5 percent cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 31, 2025)
  • 3 percent cash back on dining and drugstore purchases
  • 1.5 percent cash back on all other purchases

Thanks to this lucrative structure, the higher $5,000 credit limit I got with the Chase Freedom Unlimited (which has almost doubled since) and a substantial increase in income and spending over the years, I’ve been seeing the rewards roll in.

It offers a uniquely valuable welcome bonus

The card’s current welcome bonus is also one of the most lucrative out there for a no-annual-fee cash back card.

Instead of offering a lump sum of cash back after you meet a spending requirement, the current offer lets you earn an additional 1.5 percent cash back on top of your ongoing rewards rates. This boosted rate applies to the first $20,000 you spend in your first year.

Thanks to this offer, you can get:

  • 6.5 percent cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel
  • 6.5 percent cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 31, 2025)
  • 4.5 percent cash back on dining and drugstore purchases
  • 3 percent cash back on all other purchases

If you max out this bonus by spending $20,000 in your first year, you can walk away with up to $300 in bonus cash back. That easily beats the typical sign-up bonus value you’ll find on a no-annual-fee cash back card.

It has simple redemption options

Unlike most cash back credit cards that just accumulate cash back, the Chase Freedom Unlimited actually earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These rewards points can be redeemed in a variety of ways, including for:

  • Statement credits
  • Direct deposits
  • Travel purchases
  • Gift cards
  • Amazon purchases

Since I find navigating travel rewards to be overwhelming, I tend to just redeem my points for cash back.

I like to stock up on my cash back for a while, then redeem my rewards for a statement credit to save a bit on a payment for a particularly hefty bill. However, it’s still nice to have the versatility that comes with the card’s flexible redemption options.

It provides special offers through Chase

Having the Chase Freedom Unlimited as my first real credit card made me appreciate its simplicity. That said, there are times when some of the card’s extra bells and whistles come in handy.

For example, my Chase card allows me to shop through the Ultimate Rewards online shopping portal, Shop Through Chase. Basically, you’ll search for retailer offers in this portal, and when you shop with a particular retailer, you can earn special offers. Sometimes these offers come in the form of a discount, and other times you’ll get bonus rewards on your purchase.

It pairs well with other Chase cards

Now that I’m more comfortable using a credit card and have some hefty purchases coming my way — like travel and a major furniture overhaul — I’m considering maximizing my cardholder benefits by signing up for a higher-tier Chase credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Although the Chase Sapphire Preferred has an annual fee, it’s on the lower end at $95. This card also comes with no foreign transaction fees, which could help me save money when traveling. Back when I first applied for the Chase Freedom Unlimited, that $95 fee wouldn’t have made sense with how little I was actually using my credit card. Now, though, some of this card’s perks could really pay off — especially when traveling.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll get:

  • 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Travel
  • 5X total points on Lyft rides (2X on general travel and 3X-point bonus through March 31, 2025)
  • 3X points on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs)
  • 2X points on general travel purchases
  • 1X points on everything else

The Sapphire Preferred also comes with a welcome bonus of 75,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. The Chase Freedom Unlimited, which has a better rewards rate on non-category spending, will be great for filling in the gaps left behind by a more premium card like the Sapphire Preferred.

The bottom line

As far as first credit cards go, I’d say the Chase Freedom Unlimited gets the job done. Between the straightforward rewards, solid welcome bonus and lack of annual fee, this rewards credit card is really easy to manage — even for a credit card newbie. Plus, if you learn how to navigate the Ultimate Rewards online shopping portal, you can earn even more rewards. But if you think a different cash back credit card might be best for you, don’t hesitate to compare the Chase Freedom Unlimited to other cards on the market.