Straightforward cash back makes the Chase Freedom Unlimited an easy winner for me

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When I was looking for a new rewards credit card, one, in particular, caught my eye: the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. After completing a big move and getting my finances in order after a job change, I didn’t want to have to think too much about credit card rewards. At the same time, I also wanted to earn as much as possible for my spending.

After conducting some pretty extensive research and weighing the pros and cons of various options, the Freedom Unlimited was a clear winner in terms of both value and simplicity.

The Freedom Unlimited is a flexible, lucrative rewards card with great perks. It’s a handy card for everyday spending that earns 1.5 percent cash back on purchases with no upper limit, plus extra cash back for spending in categories like dining, drugstore purchases and groceries.

Simple cash back can still yield big rewards

I like my credit card rewards to be simple, and cash back is just about as simple as it gets. The Freedom Unlimited features generous cash back, without having to track rotating categories or complicated spending rules. I always know exactly how much I’ll earn on a given purchase.

The card earns 5 percent cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3 percent cash back on dining at restaurants and drugstore purchases, and at least 1.5 percent cash back on all other purchases. Plus, the card also earns an impressive 5 percent cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

I use this card primarily for groceries, dining, and everyday spending. Groceries are increasingly expensive (and are also my budgeting weakness), so 5 percent cash back in my first year is a handy way to earn a little extra. The cash back rewards add up fast—for example, if I were to spend the full $12,000 in groceries ($1,000 per month) in my first year as a cardholder, I could earn up to $600 in cash back for grocery store purchases alone.

With a flat rate of 1.5 percent cash back, this card is also a great option for everyday spending, regardless of the category. Whether I’m buying a book to add to my (endless) To Be Read pile or a cute dress from an Instagram ad, every single purchase earns at least 1.5 percent in cash back rewards.

My requirements for a great credit card

When I was on the lookout for a new credit card, I had a few general requirements: no annual fee, great cash back, low maintenance and, if possible, a big welcome bonus. I was also interested in a card that rewarded spending on groceries and dining, since those categories make up a pretty big chunk of my credit card spending. The Chase Freedom Unlimited easily met all of these requirements.

No annual fee

The Freedom Unlimited doesn’t have quite as many flashy perks as some of its sister cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®. However, those cards also come with annual fees. Since I wasn’t looking for a luxury credit card (or its hefty price tag), the Freedom Unlimited’s mix of value and affordability was just right for my budget.

Great cash back rates

This card rewards purchases in the areas where I spend most, like groceries and dining out. With 5 percent cash back on groceries for the first year (up to $12,000, then 1 percent) and 3 percent cash back on dining at restaurants, the card helps me earn a little back whenever I splurge on fancy charcuterie and takeout sushi. Plus, with a generous flat rate of 1.5 percent cash back on all other purchases, it’s a great card for everyday purchases that don’t fit into a specific category, like my cable bill or online shopping.

Low maintenance

Some people get a lot of satisfaction out of maximizing their rewards, points and miles and researching the best possible spending categories and redemption options. I prefer the ease of a straightforward and low-maintenance cash back card. With no big travel plans on the horizon and no interest in all the bells and whistles that come with more expensive cards, the Freedom Unlimited is just right to cover all of my day-to-day spending.

Welcome bonus

Who doesn’t love a good welcome bonus? The Freedom Unlimited comes with a bonus of $200 if you spend $500 in the first three months of account opening , which I knew I could do just by using the card to pay for my regular monthly spending.

Other cards I considered

When shopping around for a good cash back credit card with the most lucrative rates for my spending habits, there were several other options that I considered.

Citi® Double Cash Card

The Citi Double Cash Card was a strong contender, earning a flat 2 percent cash back on all purchases (1 percent when you make a purchase, and another 1 percent when you pay it off). However, with no bonus categories, I found it didn’t have quite as much earning potential for my spending habits.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

I also considered the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express. This card earns a higher 6 percent cash back on U.S. supermarket purchases (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 percent), but its 3 percent cash back category is for transit and U.S. gas station purchases, not dining, which doesn’t suit my spending as much. The $95 annual fee ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year) also practically cancels out the earnings I’d get from the extra cash back on groceries, at least for the first two years. And the base rate of 1 percent on all other purchases is lower than the Freedom Unlimited’s.

Chase Freedom Flex℠

The Chase Freedom Flex also comes with no annual fee and a generous cash back rewards structure. The card earns 5 percent cash back on bonus rotating categories for the first $1,500 in combined spending each quarter (then 1 percent, activation required), 5 percent cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3 percent cash back on dining at restaurants and drugstore purchases and 1 percent cash back on everything else. I ultimately decided to go with the Chase Freedom unlimited over this card because of the introductory cash back rewards for groceries and the higher base rate of 1.5 percent on all other purchases.

The bottom line

There are some pretty great rewards credit cards out there, so picking the right one for me ultimately came down to my own preferences and spending habits. A card that rewards spending on food, with some pretty compelling rewards on other purchases, a straightforward earning and redemption process and a $0 annual fee checked all the boxes on my list.