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One of the simplest ways to learn the basics of rewards credit cards is to start with no annual fee credit card. There are lots of excellent cards with no annual fee that earn cash back. These cards are very easy to understand — and who doesn’t like earning a little bit of extra cash?!
Two great no-annual-fee cash back cards are the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Citi® Double Cash Card. While they’re similar in many ways, there are key differences between the cards for those looking to get the highest return on your spending.
Chase Freedom Unlimited vs Citi Double Cash
- Will you spend more or less than $30,000 on the card in the first year?
- Do you have an annual fee Chase Ultimate Rewards card?
- Are you under the Chase “5/24” rule?
- Which card is better to keep long term?
Here are the important details for each card:
|Card||Sign-Up Bonus||Earn Rate|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||- $150 bonus (15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening||Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||- Currently doesn't have a sign-up bonus||- Earn 2% cash back on purchases
- Earn 1% cash back when you buy plus another 1% cash back when you make payments, as long as you meet the minimum payment on your monthly statement
So what exactly does all of this mean to you? Here’s what to consider before you apply.
Are you under the Chase “5/24” rule?
Chase has tougher application rules, making it difficult to open most of their cards if you have lots of new credit card accounts. If you’re just starting out, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Chase won’t approve you for the Chase Freedom Unlimited if you’ve opened five or more credit cards (from any bank) in the past 24 months (not counting Chase business cards and most other business cards). This is referred to as the Chase “5/24” rule. If you’ve opened five or more cards in the past 24 months, go for the Citi Double Cash.
Will you spend more or less than $30,000 in the first year?
Neither of the two cards has any category spending bonuses. The rewards you earn will stay the same regardless of the purchase you’re making. Below is what you would earn with each card if you spend $30,000 within the first year:
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||Citi Double Cash|
|Welcome Bonus||$150 after meeting minimum spending requirements||$0|
|Cash Back From $30,000 Spending||$450 ($30,000 in purchases X 1.5% Cash Back)||$600 ($30,000 in purchases X 1% + $30,000 in payments X 1%)|
|Total||$600 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points)||$600|
Both cards will earn you the same amount of cash back in the first year if you make $30,000 in purchases.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited welcome bonus makes it more valuable if you expect to spend less than $30,000 in the first 12 months of having the card. But the Citi Double Cash is more rewarding if you’ll spend more than $30,000 because of its higher earning rate.
But this analysis can change depending on how you use your rewards. Here’s an example.
Do you have an annual fee Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points earning card?
The Citi Double Cash earns cash back, which you can redeem for a check, statement credit, or gift cards. It’s as simple as earning 1% cash back when you make a purchase and an additional 1% cash back when you make a payment of at least the minimum payment amount. That said, we always recommend paying your balances in full each month because interest charges on outstanding balances can offset the value of any rewards you earn.
If you’re paying an annual fee on a card that earns Citi ThankYou points, you can actually transfer your cashback to that card (1 cent = 1 Citi ThankYou point), and then transfer those points to valuable Citi transfer partners like Flying Blue (the loyalty program of KLM and Air France) or Turkish Airlines.
Meanwhile, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns 1.5% cash back (1.5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) per dollar spent. You can redeem these points for 1 cent each for cash back, gift cards, or travel through the Chase Travel Portal.
Similar to the Citi Double Cash, if you have a Chase Ultimate Rewards card with an annual fee, the rewards you earn with the Chase Freedom Unlimited can be worth much more. You can move points from the Freedom Unlimited to another eligible Chase card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, or Chase Sapphire Reserve. You can then redeem your points with Chase transfer partners like Southwest, Hyatt, or United Airlines. Or, you can book travel through the Chase Travel Portal, which also increases your Chase points value over just redeeming for cashback.
Which card should you get?
I’d suggest the Citi Double Cash to those of you looking for a straightforward cash back card with no plans on applying for more lucrative travel rewards cards in the future. Or if you’re over the Chase “5/24” limit and just want add a no-annual-fee cash back card to your wallet. You can read our
If you’re still unsure which card is best for your situation, please leave a comment below and I’ll help you figure it out. I personally have both. You can read our Citi Double Cash review here. And read our Chase Freedom Unlimited review here.
Personally, I like Chase Freedom Unlimited more. You can get significant value for the rewards you earn if you also have another eligible Chase Ultimate Rewards card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. And I like Chase transfer partners better than Citi ThankYou points. You have the flexibility to combine points and increase their value to save big on travel!
If you prefer earning straightforward cash back and don’t plan on ever opening a lucrative travel rewards card, the Citi Double Cash Card is the better card long-term. With this card, you earn 1% cash back when you make a purchase and an additional 1% cash back when you make a payment of at least the minimum payment amount. That’s a great earning rate.
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