I often write these posts with CNBC on in the background for some noise (interestingly, I usually can’t see the television), and for what seems like the fifteenth time in the last hour, they’ve played a commercial for the Chase Freedom credit card. You’ve probably seen the commercial if you’ve had your television on at all in the last month … it features a single line from the old Rolling Stones’ song “I’m Free” over and over again. I’m free… to do what I want… any old time.
Apparently, the advertising scheme is working, because several people have written to me in the last week asking me about the offer: is it worthwhile? The short answer is that it’s not.
When I look at a credit card offer, I look at five crucial factors to judge whether or not it’s worthwhile.
Is it from a widely accepted credit card chain? I generally discard offers from Discover, and I almost always discard offers that aren’t from American Express, MasterCard, or Visa right off the bat because these cards simply aren’t widely accepted. If I can’t ubiquitously use the card, it becomes much less of a tool for my spending.
Does it have a grace period? I look for cards that have some sort of grace period on purchases before the interest rate kicks in. I’m very methodical and timely with my payments, so having a grace period usually means I pay no interest at all on virtually any of my purchases.
Is the interest rate low? Sometimes, I do wind up paying interest on a card, particularly when I’m on the road. When this happens, I want the interest rate to be nice and low.
Do I earn more than 1% cash back? The best cash back card offers award more than 1% cash back. If the card can’t even do that, then it’s out.
Do I earn more than 2 points on the average dollar, and can I actually use them for something I want? If I’m going to go for points, I better be earning a lot of points and it better be for things that I use. Since we do a lot of our bulk shopping on Amazon.com, for example, we really clean up on the bonus points with our Amazon card – we can effectively get 3% cash back on our bulk purchases.
So, if we take a look at the specifics of the credit card offer itself, we can quickly see how it does with this criteria.
It’s widely accepted; it’s a Visa. That’s a positive.
It has a 20 day grace period. That’s not particularly stellar; some cards have a longer period. But, still, better than no grace period.
The interest rate isn’t so good. The card has several “levels” of interest rates, but even the best one isn’t stellar – 14.24% variable is the best they can do, and that’s the best rate? 14.24% variable means that the interest rate can be adjusted upwards for a huge variety of reasons. I’m not comfortable with that kind of interest rate.
It earns only 1% cash back. That’s not good.
It earns less than 2% rewards points unless your spending is focused entirely on groceries, gas, and fast food. If you only use a card in those categories, you can possibly beat 2%, but for most people, the points won’t add up to 2%, so I don’t even care how good the stuff I can get with the points is.
Some people have wondered to me if the commercial is saying that you earn both cash and rewards points from the card. No, you don’t; you can choose which one you want to get, but you do not earn both at the same time.
In short, don’t go for the Chase Freedom card. If you want to read about a card that matches my criteria for a good card, check into the Citi Driver’s Edge Platinum Select card. If you commute to work, you can easily leverage this card to earn 3 to 4% cash back on all purchases overall, and it at least matches the Freedom card in the other categories.