Tips for Maximizing the Chase Freedom Unlimited 3% Welcome Bonus
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We’ve seen a gradual change in the way card issuers structure their sign-up bonuses over the last few years. It used to be a simple matter of spending $4,000 in the first 3 months to get 50,000 bonus points or some variation of that. But now we’re seeing more and more bonuses designed to reward high spenders.
Sometimes this takes the form of a tiered welcome bonus like with The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. This card is currently offering up to 75,000 Membership Rewards points to new applicants — 50,000 bonus points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 bonus points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. The more you spend, the more you’ll be rewarded.
The latest card joining this club of high-spend welcome bonuses is the Chase Freedom Unlimited. This no-annual-fee credit card is a fan favorite because you can convert its cash-back points into full-fledged, transferable Ultimate Rewards points if you hold it in combination with a Chase card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. Since TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, this doubles your return on the Freedom Unlimited and turns its 1.5% cash back on all purchases into a stellar 3% return.
For most of its history, the Freedom Unlimited has offered a bonus of $150 (or 15,000 points) after you spend $500 in the first 3 months. That recently changed, and instead of a set bonus amount, new applicants for the Freedom Unlimited will earn 3% cash back/3x points (or a 6% return based on TPG valuations) on all purchases for their first 12 months (up to $20,000).
Today we’ll take a look at a few options for maximizing the charges you can put on this card, and the bonus points you can earn. You’ll notice that many of these strategies are the same ones you might already be using to meet your minimum spending requirement on other cards. The only difference here is that you get 12 full months to work on maximizing this bonus.
1. Prepay Your Rent and Bills
Assuming you have a healthy savings account or some free money in your budget, prepaying your rent, insurance or utility bills is a great way to meet minimum spend. These are charges you would have to pay anyway, so as long as you can rearrange your budget to spend it sooner rather than later, it won’t really cost you anything extra.
One thing to make note of is the fact that some companies charge a processing fee for credit card payments. This might be a flat amount or it might be a percentage of the transaction, but given that you’ll be getting up to a 6% return on your first year of Freedom Unlimited purchases, you’ll likely still come out ahead. If you haven’t explored this option already, it might be worth spending an afternoon on the phone with the different companies you pay bills to.
2. Pick up the Dinner Tab With Friends
This was one of my favorite hacks during college to help meet minimum spending requirements on cards when I wasn’t working and had really no income or expenses of my own. Every time you go out with friends for dinner or drinks, offering to pay for the entire bill on your card and have your friends Venmo or Zelle you their portion. This allows you to rack up bonus points and get paid back immediately. As long as your friends aren’t travel rewards junkies themselves, they might even be happy to not have to deal with the hassle of splitting a check. Just make sure to snap a picture of the receipt in case there’s any confusion about who owes what.
You can apply this to any group outing like a movie, concert, festival or sports game. Buying everyone’s tickets and having them pay you back is a great way to increase your spending and also make sure everyone gets seats together.
3. Consider Adding an Authorized User
This is a trickier proposition, as it only works if you have someone who you trust to pay you back on time. When you add an authorized user, they get the benefits of easy access to credit, and you earn points on all of their transactions. Just remember you will be responsible for footing the bill at the end of the month, so only do this if you’re confident you will get paid back.
This can also be a great strategy for parents to use with kids under the right circumstances. In place of giving them a weekly or monthly allowance, you can add them as an authorized user on a card. Not only does this save you from having to give or send them cash every month, but it can also jump-start their credit history so that they can start applying for rewards cards themselves as soon as they’re old enough.
4. Pay Your Taxes
There are a few different methods the IRS has approved for paying your taxes with a credit card, and the good news is the fees are all capped at under 2%. This means you’re looking at a 4% return using your new Freedom Unlimited card, and even if you decide to redeem your points toward cash back at the low rate of 1 cent each, you can actually make money paying your taxes.
You can check out this guide for the best ways to pay taxes by credit card. While many full-time employees have taxes automatically withheld from their paychecks, if you’re self-employed or have to pay quarterly estimated taxes, this can be a great strategy. You should consult a tax professional on this matter, but you might even be able to deduct the credit card processing fee as a business expense as well.
5. Charge Reimbursable Business Expenses to Your Card
People who are allowed to book reimbursable work expenses on their personal credit cards have one of the biggest legs up when it comes to travel rewards. Not only do they get free travel, food or entertainment depending on their role and company, but they can also keep all the points to use for future travel.
If this sounds like you, make sure to use your Chase Freedom Unlimited for as many reimbursable work expenses as possible to maximize the 3% cash back sign-up bonus. One drawback here is that the Freedom Unlimited does have a 3% foreign-transaction fee, so it won’t be the best card to use for certain international flights or hotel reservations.
In many ways I’m happy that I started my points journey at a young age when I couldn’t meet a minimum spending requirement on my own. It forced me to get creative with my spending, and in the process I’ve found many ways to put more charges on my credit cards without actually spending more money. This type of thinking is bound to become even more important as more card issuers follow Chase’s lead and switch from fixed welcome bonuses to ones that reward the biggest spenders the most.