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Why the Chase Freedom Unlimited should be the first card in every student’s wallet


College students are at a big disadvantage when it comes to racking up points and miles since most have limited income and little to no credit history. This makes some of the best points and miles cards just out of their reach.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® resolves this dilemma while still providing outsized benefits to those with limited credit history. Read on to see why it should be the first card on every college student’s list.

Related: Getting started with points, miles and credit cards to travel

No annual fee to worry about

Since most college students don’t earn a lot, cards with annual fees are often out of reach. The Freedom Unlimited has no annual fee. That means more cash in your pocket to spend on food and activities while traveling. But there’s a long-term benefit to this as well: You can keep this card open forever without worrying about an annual fee, and boost your credit score at the same time.

As the length of your credit history determines 15% of your credit score, you can keep your no-annual-fee card open for a long time and see a boost in your credit score.

THE POINTS GUY

Before you apply for your first credit card, it’s important to know what your credit score is and to fully understand the factors that influence it. If you miss payments or spend money you don’t have just to earn points, it will end up costing you in both the short term and long term — and you’ll end up paying way more than any value you get in rewards.

Related: How to check your credit score for free

It’s relatively easy to get approved

Because the Freedom Unlimited has a moderate sign-up bonus- earn an extra 1.5% on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year, worth up to $300 cash back) – and fewer perks than some of Chase’s more premium alternatives, it’s generally one of the easier entry-level cards to get approved for.

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Building credit is like chutes and ladders; a few approvals can boost your score quickly, but a rejection early on can set you back in the short term. It helps to be conservative in the early stages and apply for cards you’re more likely to get approved for. Remember to allow at least a few months to pass between credit card applications; applying for too many cards too quickly can raise a red flag for issuers.

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Related: What credit score do you need to get the Chase Freedom cards?

Build credit and establish a good relationship with the issuer

It takes years of consistent payments and responsible spending to build up your credit score, but it helps to make some friends along the way. If you’re new to credit and you show Chase (or any credit issuer) that you can be responsible with the first card it gives you — make all your payments on time, keep a low balance-to-limit ratio, etc. — it will be much more likely to approve you for other valuable cards down the line.

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Having good credit and a good relationship with an issuer isn’t just good for getting approved for new cards. It can also help boost your credit limit. Your first credit card will likely have a low credit limit, with the exact limit depending on factors such as income and credit score. If you’re responsible with the card and use it frequently, the issuer will notice this and be more inclined to raise your credit limit.

Related: The best time to apply for these popular Chase credit cards based on offer history

Useful bonus categories

Freedom Unlimited cardholders will earn 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3% on dining — including takeout — and drugstores, and 1.5% on all other purchases. Many college students spend a lot of money on dining every month, so having a card that earns 3% back on dining is a huge plus.

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If you need to buy everyday supplies for your dorm room, like dish soap or toiletries, try to make those purchases at a drugstore to earn extra rewards. There is usually at least one drugstore near a college campus, so doing this should be fairly easy. Even if you have to use this card at a regular grocery store, you’ll still earn 1.5% back.

Related: How to choose a cash-back credit card

A valuable welcome bonus for a no-annual-fee card

Many of the best credit cards on the market have minimum spending requirements of $3,000 to $5,000 in the first three months, but how are you supposed to do that if you don’t even have that much money in the bank? Fortunately, the Freedom Unlimited is much more manageable, as it comes with an extra 1.5% on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year, worth up to $300 cash back) for new applicants.

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If your income situation improves and you’ve demonstrated responsible credit card habits over a period of time, you can consider adding a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. With a more premium card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can convert the cash back on your Freedom Unlimited into Ultimate Rewards points. You can then transfer the points to 14 airline and hotel travel partners or redeem them through Chase Travel.

Related: Ways to meet minimum spending requirements

Amazing long-term earning potential

After you open your Freedom Unlimited, you’ll be one step closer to possessing the “Chase Trifecta” of credit cards. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited: 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Travel℠, 3% cash back on dining and drugstores, and 1.5% cash back on every other purchase.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: The Reserve earns 5 points per dollar on Chase Travel purchases and Lyft rides (through March 2025), 3 points on dining, and 2 points on all other travel. The Reserve has a high annual fee of $550 but has plenty of premium travel benefits. To learn more, read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
  • Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card: This card offers 3 points per dollar on travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone services and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines (up to $150,000 in combined spending each account anniversary year). It might not make sense when you’re a college student, but it could become a useful card down the line if you decide to start your own business. To learn more, read our full review of the Ink Business Preferred.

Remember: While the Freedom Unlimited has strong earning potential on its own, it’s technically just a cash-back card. To unlock Ultimate Rewards sweet spot redemptions, you need to pair it with a premium UR-earning card like the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve. Get ahead of your post-graduation travel plans by beginning your rewards earning now with the Freedom Unlimited, so that you already have a pool of rewards ready when you open a higher-tier Chase card.

Related: The best Chase credit cards

Chase Application restrictions

When you first start collecting points and miles, you’re bound to be overwhelmed by a bunch of jargon. Abbreviations such as URs and MRs (Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards points, respectively) are commonly used among points and miles enthusiasts and can be quite confusing for those starting off.

You can and should learn as you go, but it helps to be aware of one thing from the start when applying for Chase cards: the issuer’s infamous 5/24 rule. Simply put, Chase will automatically reject you for most of its credit cards if you’ve opened five or more credit cards in the last 24 months (across all issuers). This means that you generally want to start by filling up your five “slots” with Chase before moving on, and the Freedom Unlimited is a great way to start.

Related: The best ways to use your Chase 5/24 slots

Bottom line

College (if not sooner) is the perfect time to start establishing a credit history, and the Chase Freedom Unlimited is an excellent beginner credit card for students. If you’re a college student or entering the points hobby with a limited credit history, there’s no shame in starting small and applying for cards that you can actually get approved for as you go. When you’re ready to upgrade to the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll already have built up a meaningful stash of rewards and be well on your way to a free vacation.

To learn more, read our full review of the Chase Freedom Unlimited.


Apply here: Chase Freedom Unlimited


Related: Chase Freedom Flex card review

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