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Our quick take: The Chase Freedom Student credit card is an ideal choice for college students thanks to its easy-to-earn sign-up bonus, yearly good standing rewards and cash back rewards on every purchase — all for no annual fee.
- Earn 5% cash back on Lyft rides through March 2022.
- Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Card holders earn a “good standing reward” of 2,000 bonus points (equivalent to $20) after each account anniversary year for the first five years.
- Opportunity to earn a credit limit increase within the first 10 months of account opening.
- No annual fee.
- No introductory interest rate on purchases or balance transfers.
- 3% foreign transaction fees.
Current sign-up bonus: Earn a $50 bonus after your first purchase on the card within the first three months after opening the account.
Best for: College students who are looking to earn cash back or Chase Ultimate Rewards points, but who have a limited credit history.
Why students should get a credit card
For many, going off to college is the first step to becoming financially independent. While many students may still have access to a parent’s credit card and debit cards allow you to withdraw money directly from your bank account, it’s a good time to get a card of your own to start building a credit history. A robust credit history can help down the line when you need to purchase a car, rent an apartment or one day even buy a house.
Credit cards are not only a tool of convenience, but they can help you manage your cash flow so that you can cover your expenses even when a weekly paycheck hasn’t arrived yet. There are also many credit cards that offer valuable rewards, which is essentially free cash for making purchases you make anyway. Even earning 1% cash back on a credit card will ultimately add up.
However, you should never buy more than you can afford with a credit card, and you should always be able to pay your balance in full by the date your statement is due. If you don’t feel you can be disciplined with your purchases, then a credit card probably isn’t right for you. Having your own credit card can help you build a great financial foundation for years to come — but only if you’re responsible with the card.
Advantages of the Chase Freedom Student credit card
The Chase Freedom Student credit card is a useful option for college students looking for their first credit card. The card offers an incredibly easy-to-earn $50 sign-up bonus, since you only need to make a single purchase within the first three months of opening the account in order to earn the bonus.
The card also offers a simple cash back rewards program. You’ll earn 1 point for every dollar you spend on every purchase you make, without having to worry about complicated bonus categories. Those points can then be redeemed for cash back as a statement credit or direct deposit into most US checking and savings accounts at a rate of 1 cent per point, equaling 1% cash back.
However, you might want to hang onto some of those points at first instead of redeeming them. That’s because if you eventually get one of the premium Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards — such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — you can transfer the points you earn with the Chase Freedom Student card to that card, and then redeem them for travel at a higher rate, or even transfer them to Chase’s travel partners for potentially even more valuable redemptions.
On top of earning 1% cash back on all purchases, you’ll also earn 5% cash back (or 5 points per dollar spent) on Lyft rides through March 2022. This is a great way to rack up extra rewards on rides you’re already taking and currently paying for with a debit card.
You can also earn rewards with the Chase Freedom Student card simply by keeping your account in good standing. Card holders earn 2,000 bonus points (equal to $20) after each account anniversary year (meaning a year counting from the date you opened the account) for the first five years as long as you keep your account open and not in default. So just for being responsible, you’ll earn extra rewards.
And if you’re just starting to build credit and you start with a small credit line, after you make five on-time monthly payments within the first 10 months of opening the Chase Freedom Student card, you can earn an increase in your credit limit if you meet Chase’s credit criteria — allowing you to use the card even more.
College students may also find the card’s complimentary three-month DashPass membership useful. DashPass is a membership subscription service that offers unlimited deliveries for no fee on eligible orders over $12 with DoorDash and Caviar. To take advantage of this benefit, you have to activate the subscription by December 31, 2021. After the complimentary three-month period ends, you have the option to continue the service at 50% off for the next nine months.
Other benefits of the Chase Freedom Student card include purchase protection, extended warranty protection and trip cancellation/interruption insurance, all of which are solid features to see on a credit card with no annual fee.
Disadvantages of the Chase Freedom Student credit card
Although the Chase Freedom Student card earns cash back — while many other student credit cards don’t — there are other credit cards on the market that earn greater rewards if you can qualify for them. For example, the Citi® Double Cash Card earns 2% cash back on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay it offer — and doesn’t charge an annual fee.
The Chase Freedom Student card also charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, which isn’t unusual for a no-annual-fee credit card. But it means that if you plan on traveling overseas or studying abroad, this isn’t the card to take with you. Foreign transaction fees can add up quickly and will cost you more than you earn in rewards, so if you’re a traveler, you’re better off with a card that waives the fee on international transactions.
Also, unlike some other credit cards, there’s no introductory APR offer on new purchases or balance transfers with the Chase Freedom Student card, which means if you need to carry a balance, you’ll be paying a lot of interest. If you have large expenses coming up — such as outfitting your dorm room or a semester exchange program — being able to carry debt on a credit card with 0% interest might be a necessity.
Finally, when it comes to the card’s complimentary DashPass membership, after the three-month period ends, you’ll be automatically enrolled in the service at 50% off for the next nine months. This is important to remember since you’ll want to cancel the service if you don’t want to pay for it so that you don’t get charged without realizing it.
Stacking up the Chase Freedom Student to our benchmark card
CNN Underscored has chosen the Citi Double Cash card as our current “benchmark” credit card. That doesn’t mean it’s the best credit card on the market — rather, we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they’re worse.
Here’s how the Chase Freedom Student scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that is better than our benchmark. Red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark, and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.
When reviewing other credit cards, we use this format and these criteria to compare them with our benchmark. You can read our credit card methodology for more details on what we take into account when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value.
Other credit cards similar to the Chase Freedom Student
If you’re looking for a student-specific credit card, there are a few variables to consider, depending on what you’re looking for. For those interested in a card that offers rewards, two options to look at are the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students and the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students. Both earn more cash back than the Chase Freedom Student card, but you won’t have the option to combine your rewards with a premium card and get potentially more value by redeeming them for travel.
And, if you already have a good credit history and are able to get approved for non-student credit cards, you’ll also want to look at the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Freedom Flex. Both are no-annual-fee credit cards that earn the same Ultimate Rewards points and offer comparable benefits. But you’ll earn more rewards with the Freedom Unlimited and Freedom Flex than you will with the Chase Freedom Student card.
Should you get the Chase Freedom Student credit card?
If you’re a college student looking to travel abroad or you have some large expenses coming up where you’ll need to carry the debt on your credit card, the fees and interest on the Chase Freedom Student are too expensive and you’ll want to consider another student credit card.
But if you expect to mostly stay in the U.S. and pay off your balance in full each month, the Chase Freedom Student is a solid option. The cash back it earns can quickly add up over time to put some extra spending money in your pocket, or you can bank the points for travel down the line, making it a great choice for college students looking for their first credit card.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best credit cards of 2021.