The Chase Freedom Student card is a good first credit card. No, it doesn’t offer the kind of perks that somewhat more experienced student borrowers might appreciate, such as an introductory 0% interest rate offer on balance transfers or extra rewards on specific types of purchases.
But, this card has its priorities straight. Thanks to its relatively low interest rate, it’s a safer choice than the average student card. If a newbie borrower accidentally runs up more debt than they can afford to repay quickly, the consequences won’t be nearly as expensive. Plus, it helps instill the right habits right away, offering a rewards bonus and a higher credit limit to those who pay responsibly.
One caveat: Students under the age of 21 may have a hard time qualifying for this card, since Chase doesn’t allow anyone to co-sign, including parents. Underage students will need to prove that they have enough income—from a campus job or other source—to afford the card.
Relatively low interest rate
Features that encourage good credit habits
Easy rewards for modest spenders
Foreign transaction fee
No online application
Limited terms available online
- Relatively low interest rate: This card’s variable APR is lower than what you’ll find on most student cards, and there’s no guesswork about what you’ll be offered, since everyone gets the same rate. Some competitors advertise a range with a slightly lower minimum offer, but that can be misleading, since students with limited credit histories are unlikely to qualify for the best rate. The high end of the range on most student cards is well over 20%.
- Features that encourage good credit habits: Two different perks reward students for handling their cards responsibly. New cardholders who pay on time at least five times in their first 10 months will get an automatic credit limit increase. In addition, students whose accounts are in good standing will get an extra 2,000 points (worth $20) every year on their account anniversary, for the first five years.
- Easy rewards for modest spenders: Getting 1% cash back on every purchase is pretty bare bones, and less than what many competitors offer. But for students with limited budgets, the lower rewards rate may not matter much, and categories and caps can become a distraction for those who need to be focused on establishing a good track record of payments. What’s more, the new cardholder bonus is super easy to earn, even for the most modest spenders. Just one purchase qualifies you for 5,000 points, worth $50 in cash back.
Celebrate a credit limit increase, even if you don’t plan to ever charge that much. A higher credit limit can help lift your credit score by improving your credit utilization ratio, a measure of how much available credit you are using. The lower your utilization ratio, the better.
- No co-signers: Many college freshman, sophomores, juniors, and even seniors won’t qualify for the card. By law, credit card issuers are only allowed to approve applicants under 21 if they can prove they have an independent source of income or if they can get a qualified adult to co-sign. But many lenders, including Chase, don’t allow co-signers. So students without a campus job or other source of income, such as a qualifying scholarship, may be out of luck.
- Foreign transaction fee: Unlike many student cards, the Chase Freedom Student card charges a small fee each time you use your card outside of the U.S. or when you make an online purchase in a foreign currency.
- No online application: This may be the only student card from a major nationwide bank that’s not available online. You’ll have to trek to a Chase branch to apply. And although Chase is a big bank, there are many U.S. states and cities that don’t have a Chase branch.
- Limited terms available online: Since Chase doesn’t accept online applications, it doesn’t have to publish a terms and conditions page on its website. That makes it hard to compare offers—especially if you’re the type of person that likes to take your time to read over an agreement. Chase does disclose many of the terms online, but two key figures that are missing are the card’s late fee and penalty rate. (According to a bank spokesperson, the late fees are $29 to $39, and the penalty APR is 16.49% to 25.24% variable.)
The Credit CARD Act of 2009 included a number of provisions designed to protect students from opening cards they can’t afford, including stricter guidelines about their ability to repay. However, the criteria that banks use to verify independent income for underage cardholders varies. So if you’re under 21, it’s worth asking at a Chase branch what counts as independent income.
Bonus for New Cardholders
The 5,000-point bonus (worth $50 in cash back) offered when you first sign up for the Chase Freedom Student card is modest, compared to what some student cards offer. Some lenders, for example, offer students four to five times that amount. But they typically require you to quickly spend up to $1,000 or more, which isn’t realistic for a college student. With this card, students just need to make one purchase within three months of opening their account. They could charge a $2 pack of gum and still get $50 in return.
Earning Points & Rewards
This card’s rewards program is simple: Every purchase will earn 1 point per $1 spent, or the equivalent of 1% cash back. That’s the baseline for any rewards card, and comparable to some competing cards, though several on the market offer better. (You can find student cards with a flat rate of as much as 1.5% cash back or 2%-3% cash back on select types of purchases. One competing card offers 5% cash back in rotating categories.)
Cardholders can redeem their rewards for cash at a 1 cent per point redemption rate. For example, a $100 purchase, which earns 100 points, earns you $1 in cash back. This cash back can be applied as a statement credit or you can get a direct deposit into a checking or savings account. One nice touch is that there is no minimum threshold to meet before you can redeem your rewards.
Cardholders can also redeem their points for other kinds of purchases, such as travel bookings, gift cards, or merchandise. But if you choose those options, you may give up some rewards value. For example, cardholders can use their rewards to buy merchandise directly from Amazon. But each point will only be worth 0.8 cents. In that scenario, $100 in spending will translate to points worth just 80 cents at the Amazon checkout.
How to Get the Most Out of This Card
Use your card regularly when you first open it, even if you just make small purchases. Otherwise you may not qualify for the credit limit increase, which requires you to pay a bill, on time, at least five months within your first 10 months with the card. (The account must also meet Chase’s credit criteria to qualify.)
Also, keep the following promotions in mind. They may be particularly interesting to students, and can bring some extra value:
- For three months, students can get free delivery on any DoorDash order over $12. After that, students will get a 50% discount on a DoorDash subscription for nine months.
- For two years, cardholders will get 5% cash back on Lyft rides. So if a student spends $20 a month on rides to campus, they’ll get $24 back over the course of two years.
Don’t close this credit card, even if you qualify for a better one from a different issuer. The average length of your credit history is an important factor in your credit score and your first card is the most important one for establishing a lengthy history. Instead, ask Chase to upgrade your card to another rewards card, such as the Chase Freedom card.
Chase Freedom Student Card’s Excellent Perks
The Freedom Student card has one perk that isn’t widely available on other student cards:
- A yearly “good standing” award: Every year, for five years, that a cardholder renews their account, without overdue balances, they’ll get an extra 2,000 points in cash back (worth $20 in cash back).
Chase Freedom Student Card’s Other Benefits
- Extended warranties
- Insurance for stolen or damaged purchases
Chase gets average customer satisfaction marks, according to J.D. Power. But unlike some issuers, it doesn’t offer a real-time chat feature on its website. That’s a big downside for students who may prefer messaging over talking on the phone.
Like many lenders, Chase also offers account holders free access to their credit score, which can help new borrowers learn how scores work and get used to monitoring them.
This card also features Chase’s new “contactless” payment technology, which lets you pay by passing the card near a payment terminal rather than by swiping or inserting into a chip reader.
Most of the Chase Freedom Student card’s security features are pretty standard, including fraud alerts. There’s also an instant lock feature so students can temporarily pause access to their cards.
Chase Freedom Student Card’s Fees
Overall, the Chase Freedom Student card’s fees are comparable to what you’ll find on other student cards. But in addition to a foreign transaction fee for international purchases, its cash advance and balance transfer fees are on the high side for a credit card. It’s also one of the few student cards to charge a penalty APR.