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Chase Freedom among best cash back credit cards

By Joe Taylor Jr.

Instead of flooding my mailbox with balance transfer offers, lenders have been bombarding my web browser and my DVR with ads that make me believe that picking the right credit card can help me live the good life. And while I still would love some help knocking down the interest on a few emergency purchases I made with plastic, the Chase Freedom card could convince me to cash in on my love for keeping my wallet streamlined.

The recession forced many lenders to rethink their approach to customer service, and Chase certainly took its lumps after trying to swallow what some folks call a forced acquisition of Washington Mutual's credit card portfolio. In line with the times, the Chase Freedom card forces critics to take a second look at five compelling features designed to help consumers use credit responsibly.

Getting debt-free beats no balance transfer fee

First, the down side. Chase Freedom is one of those cards that carry a three percent or five dollar, whichever is greater, processing fee for balance transfers. Unless you qualify for the lowest possible APR on the card and you're transferring a balance from a card with very high finance charges, switching to a Chase Freedom wouldn't be a good move on that count.

However, Chase Freedom is the first card in a long time that helps you strive to become debt-free. Chase used the Freedom card to pilot its "Blueprint" series of online account tools. The "Finish It" feature allows you to pick a date in the future upon which you will have paid down your selected balance. It's a great way to set clear goals for debt reduction without storing the whole card in the freezer.

Straightforward cash-back rewards

While not strictly a cash back credit card, Chase Freedom lets you earn a "point" for every dollar you spend on the card. You can turn around and cash in your points for a penny apiece. Chase Freedom remains one of the few cards that let you rack up limitless rewards.

Generous bonus rewards for special purchasing categories

As if earning one percent back in cash rewards wasn't enough, Chase Freedom encourages cardholders to patronize specific merchants throughout the year. In return, you can earn up to five points per dollar spent subject to quarterly enrollment and spend caps. The list of qualifying stores and service providers changes every three months, and promotions have so far included:

  • Restaurants
  • Gas Stations
  • Select department stores
  • Movie Theaters
  • and more

Get a little more precise with your spending plans, and you can really rack up some reward points with one of the best cash back credit cards on the market.

"Full pay" lets business travelers and savvy shoppers flex their wallets

Chase's Blueprint program makes it easy to avoid unexpected interest with the "full pay" feature. Tell the website you expect to pay a recent purchase in full by the close of the next cycle. The system will keep you honest, requesting that amount instead of just the usual minimum payment. Again, it's the first time in a while that I can recall a credit card company helping you stay out of debt.

"Split" and "track it" puts cardholders in control of budgets

Chase Blueprint gives Freedom cardholders the power to budget a major purchase, like a home improvement project or a new computer. Instead of letting that big lump sum sit in your active balance, Blueprint can "split" your purchase into its own dedicated payment plan. "Track it" allows you to keep watch over all your purchases and fees, alerting you when your Freedom card gets used or when you've got a payment due.

Even though Chase has started rolling out Blueprint to some of its other products, it's the combination of online account management and special rewards that make the Freedom card live up to the hype. Catch one of Chase's occasional cash bonus application offers, and you'll enjoy an even better deal on a useful, money-saving personal finance tool.

Joe Taylor Jr. is an internal business consultant for a Fortune 500 company, who writes about finance, culture, and design. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications from Ithaca College.

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