One year later — My first year with Amex after Chase thought I stole my own identity
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new details and the latest credit card information.
In October 2019, I applied for what I thought would be my first rewards credit card — the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Long story short, it didn’t quite go as planned.
The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
But the world of credit cards and points and miles is far too exciting (and lucrative) to give up after not being approved for my first card with Chase.
One of the most important factors in determining which credit card is right for you is to evaluate your spending habits. As a new entry into the working world who likes to cook for myself after making the fairly long commute home from the office every day, I determined that a large percentage of my income would go toward two essentials: groceries and gas.
After waiting about two months to give my credit score time to improve (as hard pulls on your credit can temporarily lower your score for a month or so), I gave it another go, this time aiming for a Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.
I knew I wasn’t a shoo-in for approval. The Blue Cash Preferred is one of the best cash-back credit cards on the market and I still only have about a year and a half’s worth of credit history with my local bank back home. But I have a squeaky-clean payment history baked into those 18 months and decided to take a leap of faith, applying through TPG’s official Blue Cash Preferred application link. After inputting my personal information, I waited about 30 seconds before receiving my answer. I had been approved!
I waited around five days before my card came in the mail. The first order of business: connect my new Blue Cash Preferred to my Spotify and Uber accounts. While we love branding the Blue Cash Preferred as a great card for families, thanks to its unparalleled 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $6,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1%) and 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, I would argue that it’s also an excellent card for students and young adults. That’s largely due to the recent additional rewards categories of 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services and 3% back on transit.
If you’re vying solely for the grocery and gas benefits, the Blue Cash Preferred’s younger sibling – the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express – is also a solid choice, especially if you’re wary about paying an annual fee (see rates and fees). However, if you’re spending more than about $3,200 annually on groceries (about $275/month) and any amount of money on gas on top of that, the Blue Cash Preferred’s annual fee of $95; waived for the first year (offer ends 12/10/2020; see rates and fees) pays for itself and then some.
After connecting my accounts to my new card, I downloaded the Amex mobile application. Even though I might be biased since I’m barely even a Millennial — I’m technically a month away from being considered Gen Z — and technology often comes second nature, I found the app to be very intuitive.
Cruising between the five tabs, I could see my recent purchases and the respective rewards I’d earned from them, my current statement balance, ways to redeem my Membership Reward dollars, current American Express offers at various retailers, and how to control my current account information.
Since activating my card, I’ve learned a few essentials and accomplished a few key milestones as a new cardholder. I put nearly every expense on my card in hopes of earning my welcome bonus (currently a respectable $300 back on after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first six months; offer ends 12/10/2020). I paid off my first statement well before the due date and set up reminders on my phone to do the same from here on out.
I’ve been reminded of the importance of keeping your credit utilization below 30%, which can be a bit tougher when you’re like me: new to the credit card game and only granted a $2000 credit limit upon approval. The season of holiday spending is another challenge to this best practice. In February, I asked for a $1000 credit limit increase to help decrease my credit utilization, in case I failed to pay off my card before the statement date one month in the future.
While I was excited to receive and start using my new card, I wanted to look a bit deeper into why this application process had been so much smoother than my first attempt. After all, it had only been about two months between the two events with really no changes to my account or score.
Of course, there’s often no rhyme or reason, from the consumer’s perspective, as to why you may be approved or denied for a credit card. However, when it comes to applying for cards from different issuers, it’s likely that the applications resulted in information, both credit-related and personal, being pulled from different places entirely. The three major credit companies —Transunion, Equifax, and Experian — are likely to have information on file about you that doesn’t 100% align with what the other bureaus have.
Whether it’s a new address, a change in income or a late credit payment, there are bound to be a few discrepancies across the credit bureaus, depending on when and what items get reported to them. Your best bet is to update your creditor directly with the proper information, should you suspect any outdated or incorrect information on your file.
I would absolutely recommend that students and recent college graduates find a solid cash-back credit card to start building credit and launch a relationship with their respective banks and issuers. I’m dipping my toe into the expansive credit card landscape, but I’m after more than a straightforward cash-back card with my next venture.
I could still benefit from valuable rewards when eating out or traveling home for the holidays. So I have my eye on the American Express® Green Card, which upped its offerings in 2019 to include 3x rewards on travel and dining, in addition to a bevy of other appealing perks. The information for the Amex Green card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
One Year Later
My first year as a points and miles novice may have started out rocky, but it quickly got off to a running start. After qualifying for my Blue Cash Preferred last October, I quickly earned my welcome bonus (now elevated to $300 if you spend at least $3,000 in the first six months of account opening; offer ends 12/10/2020), which was $250 at the time. In 2020 alone, I’ve earned more than $175 in savings according to the tracker on my American Express account. That’s more than enough to offset the annual fee, which is now being waived for the first year with the Blue Cash Preferred’s new limited-time offer.
A few months after approval, my itch to start earning points in addition to cash back was satiated when I qualified for an American Express® Gold Card in February, adding another premium credit card to my wallet. Including the Amex Gold card to my spending rotation helped round out my bonus categories, adding restaurants, takeout, delivery, and travel rewards to my already robust options of grocery stores and supermarkets, streaming, transit, and gas cash back.
By this summer, I was ready to give Chase another chance. After all, many Chase credit cards are undeniably some of the best credit cards on the market in this day and age, and they have been exceptionally generous with adding benefits and spend categories to their existing line of cards during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After some deliberation, I swallowed my pride, bit the bullet and reapplied for the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Unfortunately, the process wasn’t particularly smooth this time, either.
I applied with my parents’ address this time (which I’m still using as my permanent address until I’m no longer bouncing between apartments as a young professional). I was not immediately approved this time either, receiving a notice in the mail asking me to verify my identity. This is where the story diverges from the events of last year.
Instead of calling, I submitted my confirmation through the mail this time. After waiting for about three weeks, I received yet another notice in the mail asking for me to confirm my identity. By this time, I had decided that it was high time I gave Chase customer service another call. On the phone, I explained the situation and was told that the reason for my reconfirmation notice was that my letter with identification information was not legible. This was baffling, as I’d printed my ID as a large and high-quality image that I then mailed directly to the listed address for Chase.
After a bit more prying, I learned that mail is not sent immediately to the necessary party for these kinds of procedures at the Chase office. Instead, it is circulated through at least one other office that then faxes it to the office of the woman I presently had on the phone.
This means that — you guessed it — someone in a separate office at Chase had haphazardly faxed it, rendering my clear ID print fuzzy and illegible by the time it got to its ultimate destination. I then asked the correspondent on the phone if there was a way to improve my chances of this not occurring next time, to which I got the disheartening non-response of “just try again.”
By this time, it had been more than a month since I initially applied for the CFU in late May. So, in a motion driven more so by exasperation than anything else, I decided to bypass the postal system entirely and drove to my local Staples to fax the copy of my ID myself. As a 23-year-old, I can’t recall having ever used a fax machine in my life, so this was, in a word, a first for me.
Finally, on July 23, 2020, after almost two months of back and forth with Chase, I received a notice in the mail that I had been officially approved for the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Ironically, the CFU became the first no-annual-fee credit card in my wallet after qualifying and approving for two American Express credit cards that are typically not considered to be as beginner-friendly as the Freedom Unlimited.
Regardless, I now have a solid earning option for everyday spending as well as an additional card to swipe for the CFU’s newly revamped bonus categories: 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining at restaurants, 3% on drugstore purchases, and a 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
Moreover, it gives me the incentive to apply for a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, for the chance to up the value of my CFU earnings (by either 1.25x or 1.5x respectively per card) and fully maximize my earnings and Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer potential.
Getting denied for a credit card is not the end of the world. If you’re lucky, you might even find a card that better matches your spending habits. But it is important to understand how to be responsible from the get-go, with wise spending habits, on-time payments, and an awareness of your credit limit and utilization.
Featured photo by Oatawa/Getty Images
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