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 the 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 Chase Freedom Unlimited’s many benefits.
Keep reading to learn why I chose the Chase Freedom Unlimited as my first real credit card.
Low maintenance and easy to use
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is low maintenance, which made it an ideal credit card for me 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, at the time, my salary was on the lower side, so my spending was, too.
Solid welcome bonus
The sign-up bonus is solid — you can earn an additional 1.5 percent cash back on top of all purchases’ original cash back rate for the first year of card membership (on up to $20,000; exclusive offer through Bankrate).
Straightforward rewards structure
Thanks to the higher $5,000 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.
With this cash back card, the rewards structure is very straightforward. You’ll get 5 percent cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 5 percent cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2025), 3 percent cash back on dining and drugstore purchases and 1.5 percent cash back on all other purchases.
Simple redemption options
Since I find navigating travel rewards to be overwhelming, I tend to redeem my rewards for cash back. I like to stock up on my rewards for a while. Then, when I have a particularly hefty bill, I’ll redeem my rewards for a statement credit to save a bit on that payment. However, rewards can also be redeemed for direct deposits, travel, gift cards or shopping with Amazon.
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. Basically, you’ll 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’ll get bonus rewards on your purchase. If you get lucky, you may even find a “buy one, get one” deal at your favorite retailer.
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 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 Ultimate Rewards; 5X points on Lyft rides (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; and 1X points on everything else. The Sapphire Preferred also comes with a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, which could help with upcoming large expenses.
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.