I waited until I graduated from college to apply for a 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 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.
I waited a year and went back with proof of a stable income. In doing so, I received a credit limit increase but was still only looking at a $1,000 limit. While I’m no big spender, this just 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 the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.
Keep reading to learn why the Chase Freedom Unlimited became my first card and how I reap the rewards that come with it.
Why Chase Freedom Unlimited is a good fit for me
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is low-maintenance, which made it an ideal first credit card for me when I was learning how to navigate using credit responsibly. The lack of an annual fee was 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. At the time, my salary was on the lower side, so my spending was, too.
Thanks to the higher $5,000 limit I got with the Freedom Unlimited (which has almost doubled since) and a substantial increase in income and spending over the years, I have been seeing the rewards roll in. With this cash back credit card, the reward scheme is very straightforward. You get 1.5 percent cash back on general purchases and bonus cash back (5 percent) on travel purchases made through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. You also get 5 percent back on Lyft purchases until March 2022, making it even easier to get cash back while traveling. Dining and shopping at drugstores also lead to more cash back (3 percent in each category)
I find trying to navigate travel rewards overwhelming, so right now, I always redeem my rewards for cash back. I like to stock up on my rewards for a while until I have a particularly hefty bill, then I can save a bit on that payment. This feature is known as the Pay Yourself Back tool, and you can use it to pay for purchases made within the last 90 days with a 25 percent rewards value boost.
Between the straightforward rewards and lack of annual fee, this rewards credit card is really easy to manage—even as a credit card newbie.
A card pairing on the horizon
Now that I’m more comfortable using a credit card and have some hefty purchases coming my way (like post-pandemic 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.
While the Sapphire Preferred does come with an annual fee, it’s low at only $95. This card also has some perks that could really help me save money, like no foreign transaction fees. Back when I first applied for the Freedom Unlimited, that $95 fee wouldn’t have made sense with how little I was actually using my credit card. Now, though, some of the perks could really pay off—especially when traveling.
You get 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5X points on Lyft rides (through March 2025), 3X points on dining, select streaming services and online grocery purchases (minus Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs), 2X points on general travel purchases and 1X points on everything else. The Preferred also comes with 80,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months, which could work out well for me with my upcoming expenses.
Extra card perks that are worth it
Having the Chase Freedom Unlimited as my first credit card made me really appreciate its simplicity. That being said, there are times when some of the card’s extra bells and whistles come in handy, especially when online shopping. My Chase card allows me to shop through the Ultimate Rewards online shopping portal. Basically, you search for a retailer in this portal, and when you shop with them, you can earn special offers. Sometimes these offers come in the form of a discount, and other times you get bonus rewards on your purchase. If you get lucky, you may even find a “buy one, get one” deal at your favorite retailer.
The bottom line
Is the Chase Freedom Unlimited a good first credit card? I’d say so! The sign-up bonus is solid: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back. You never have to worry about getting your money’s worth with the annual fee because there is none (the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is another good option for avoiding an annual fee) and if you learn how to navigate the Ultimate Rewards online shopping portal, you can reap a decent amount of rewards.
As far as being a “first credit card,” I’d say the Chase Freedom Unlimited gets the job done.