If you are looking for an everyday cash back credit card, the Citi Double Cash and the Chase Freedom Unlimited are both good choices, though they offer slightly different approaches to their rewards programs.
The Double Cash offers an unlimited 2% cash back (1% when you buy, 1% when you pay your bill), while the Freedom Unlimited offers unlimited 1.5% cash back with bonus rewards categories on select purchases. Each ranks among our top cash back credit cards.
Money expert Clark Howard has the Citi Double Cash in his wallet because he enjoys the certainty of the 2% cash back every time he makes a purchase. Are you better off following that advice, or could you gain a better return on your spending with the Freedom Unlimited card’s bonus opportunities?
That likely will depend on your spending habits, but it’s something we’ll try to help you determine with this comparison of the two popular cash back credit cards.
Table of Contents
- Quick Comparison
- Card Overview: Citi Double Cash
- Card Overview: Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Spending Comparison
- Key Differences Between the Cards
- Final Thought
Quick Card Comparison
|Credit Card Perk||Citi Double Cash||Chase Freedom Unlimited|
|Cash Back Rewards||Unlimited 2%: 1% when you buy, 1% when you pay||Unlimited 1.5% + Category Bonuses|
|Intro Period for 0% APR on New Purchases||None||15 months|
|Intro Period for 0% APR on Balance Transfers||18 months||None|
|Welcome Bonus Opportunity||None||$200 when you spend at least $500 in first 3 months|
|Foreign Transaction Fees||3%||3%|
|Balance Transfer Fee||$5 or 3%, whichever is greater||$5 or 5%, whichever is greater|
|Apple App Rating||4.9 out of 5||4.8 out of 5|
|Google App Rating||4.6 out of 5||4.4 out of 5|
Card Overview: Citi Double Cash
The marketing pitch for the Citi Double Cash is that you earn 1% cash back when you make a purchase and then another 1% cash back when you pay the bill on that purchase. And with no category spending limits, that’s 2% cash back — unlimited!
Here’s a quick look at some of the other top perks to consider with this card:
- Introductory Balance Transfer Period: Citi offers 18 months of 0% APR on balance transfers you make to this card. To qualify for this perk, you must make the transfer within the first four months of your card membership. And it will be subject to a fee of either $5 or 3% of the transfer balance (whichever is greater).
- $0 Fraud Liability Protection: Citi offers full fraud protection on this card, meaning you will not be held personally responsible for any fraudulent charges made with this card.
- Lost Wallet Service: If you lose your credit card, Citi says it can get a replacement card in your hands as soon as 24 hours after you report the card lost. Citi also can provide you with a cash advance to help you until your new card has arrived.
- Citi Entertainment: This card gives you access to the Citi Entertainment portal, which can help you with things like presales for events or discounted ticketing.
For a deeper dive into the Citi Double Cash, check out Team Clark’s full review of the card here.
Card Overview: Chase Freedom Unlimited
In addition to the 1.5% unlimited cash back you’ll get on everyday purchases, here are the new categories that earn additional cash back bonuses:
- 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3% on dining (including takeout and delivery services)
- 3% on drug store purchases
Here’s a quick look at some of the other perks to consider with this card:
- $200 Welcome Bonus: The Freedom Unlimited card carries an easy-to-achieve welcome bonus. All you have to do is spend $500 or more with your card within the first three months of membership.
- Grocery Store Welcome Offer: In addition to the $200 bonus, Chase also is offering a 5% cash back bonus for grocery store purchases made within the first year of card membership. This excludes Walmart and Target, and it’s capped at $12,000 in spending. But you still could earn up to $600 in cash back on those purchases at the increased cash back rate.
- Introductory 0% APR Period: New cardholders get 15 months of 0% APR for new purchases. Clark cautions that using a 0% APR purchasing period could lead you to make purchases with money you don’t really have. But it’s worth noting that this is one of the more generous periods available for cards in the cash back category.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards Program: As you earn cash back rewards with this card, you can use them with the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program for things like travel, gift cards and Apple products.
For most people, the choice between these two cards is going to boil down to which one offers them the best long-term opportunities to earn everyday cash back rewards.
Given that this may vary based on your spending habits, we have decided to give some monthly spending examples to help you get a better idea of which card could be right for you.
For the purposes of this comparison, we have excluded promotional or welcome bonus offers to give you a clearer long-term picture. (That means we won’t focus on the Year 1 grocery shopping benefits from the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, which could net you up to an additional $600 in cash back earnings.)
Remember, the unlimited cash back rate for the Citi Double Cash is 2%. The Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers 1.5% on everyday purchases, but gives 3% on dining and drug store purchases.
|Monthly Everyday Spending||Monthly Dining Spending||Monthly Drug Store Spending||Cash Back from Citi Double Cash||Cash Back from Chase Freedom Unlimited|
I did not include the 5% travel bonus for the Freedom Unlimited card because it applies only to purchases made with Chase’s travel program, but that’s another area where you could occasionally beat the Double Cash with a large monthly spend on a trip.
Key Differences Between the Cards
Let’s take a look at three areas in which these cards have clear differences that you’ll have to consider as you make your decision:
Chase’s Bonus Categories Require Some Math
As you saw in the spending samples above, you’re going to need to do a little bit of math to see what your annual rewards may look like with the Freedom Unlimited.
Meanwhile, the Citi Double Cash is pretty straightforward with its unlimited 2% cash back. If you’re following Clark’s advice by paying your bill in full each month, you’ll see that 1% when you buy and the other 1% when you pay your bill.
You’ll need to analyze your spending habits to determine if the Chase bonus categories give you a chance to elevate the cash back return enough to make up the half-percent (1.5% vs. 2%) when compared to the Double Cash.
Chase Offers Two Key Welcome Bonuses
This is an area where Chase clearly has Citi beat on these cash back cards.
In the first year you have the card, not only can you easily earn $200 by spending $500 or more with your Freedom Unlimited card, but you also can earn up to $600 in cash back with a 5% grocery shopping welcome bonus.
As of this writing, Citi does not offer a welcome bonus promotion for the Double Cash card.
Keep in mind that Clark does not recommend making a long-term decision on a credit card based on the short-term gains of a welcome bonus. So while Chase wins this contest, make sure that you don’t place too much weight on it because you’ll be using your card for years to come.
Introductory APR Offers: New Purchases vs. Balance Transfers
Both cards offer an introductory 0% APR period, but the offers are for different products.
With the Double Cash, you get an 18-month 0% APR balance transfer offer. This comes with a 3% balance transfer fee. So if you want to bring $1,000 of existing credit card debt to your new Citi card you can expect to pay $30 in transfer fees.
Meanwhile, the Freedom Unlimited offers a 15-month 0% APR period on new purchases. This period begins when you open your account, and any balance remaining from purchases made under this promotion will be subject to interest fees once the promotional period expires.
Remember, Clark is not a fan of spending on a 0% APR welcome bonus for new purchases because of the temptation to spend money you may not actually have. However, he is a proponent of taking advantage of 0% APR balance transfer offers if you’re able to use them to get yourself out of credit card debt.
Both of these cash back credit cards have merit as everyday spenders. It depends on your spending habits and personal preferences.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to know that you’re getting 2% on everything you buy with complete certainty, you’re on Clark’s team with the Citi Double Cash.
If you know you’re going to spend enough on things in the Chase Freedom Unlimited bonus categories, there’s a chance you’ll make up the difference even though the Freedom Unlimited pays half-a-percent less in rewards on everyday purchases.