Getting into the credit card game when your credit score is under 700 isn’t always the easiest task. Luckily, there are some quality cards available for you when you’re just starting out and either building or rebuilding your credit score. When it comes to credit scores under 700, I usually recommend the Chase Freedom for Chase Freedom Unlimited to travelers.
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Have some credit history
Chase doesn’t always like to approve you for their cards until you have some level of credit history established. The Chase Freedom card was my first credit card and I opened it after holding a retail Macy’s card for close to one year. So I’d recommend trying to first have at least one year of credit history. Some folks get lucky and get approved for a Freedom for their first credit card so it can be done, it’s just going to be much more difficult and those people are typically the exception to the rule.
If you can, look into being added as an authorized user to an older account, especially if it’s on a Chase card. I was once able to help a client with a credit score around 680 get approved for both Chase Freedom cards when the only accounts on their credit report were two authorized user accounts (one was on a Chase card). In other words, the Freedom cards were their first cards in their name but the authorized user accounts helped establish some credit history for them.
Another option is to open a Chase checking account and utilize that account to build up a relationship with Chase. If you have limited credit history, the existence of that account could tip your odds so that you end up getting approved. If you could combine a Chase checking account with a year’s credit history and a score in the upper 600s, you probably stand a good chance at getting approved.
What credit score needed for the Freedom?
While you don’t need a 700 credit score or above to get approved, I’d still try to apply only when my score is in the upper 600s. This would be somewhere in the 670s, 680s, or maybe 670s. You can still get away with a score lower than that from time to time (sometimes much lower), but your odds will start to shrink substantially the lower you go, so I’d generally make my target score about 680 for the Chase Freedom.
- If you’re new to credit scores read my article on credit score basics to help you get up to speed.
Why the Chase Freedom?
I recommend the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited as two of the best credit cards for a number of reasons.
No annual fee
Annual fees give a lot of people anxiety, especially newcomers. With this card you don’t have to worry about ever paying an annual fee and can allow it to age your accounts as long as possible.
Bonus earning potential
The Freedom earns 5X on rotating categories each quarter and allows you to earn up to 7,500 points by spending up to $1,500 on these categories. Typically the categories consist of merchants you regularly use like grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and Amazon. Thus, it’s a great way to earn a lot of cash back.
The Freedom Unlimited on the other hand earns 1.5X on all purchases, so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of the rotating categories and will just earn an unlimited 1.5X points on every dollar purchased on your card.
You don’t often come across cards that have solid bonus point earning potential, no annual fee, and still come with a sign-up bonus. These cards offer you $150 in cash back for only spending $500. If you catch them at the right time, you might even get lucky and find a higher sign-up bonus. They also sometimes offer bonuses for adding authorized users, which can be easy ways to pocket extra Ultimate Rewards.
It paves the way….
One of the main reasons I recommend going with one or both of the Chase Freedoms is that it paves the way for you to eventually get on board with more premier cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Sapphire Reserve. Those cards have higher sign-up bonuses, better earning perks, and more valuable benefits.
But best of all those cards allow you to transfer your points to travel partners, such as United, Southwest, Marriott, and also allow you to redeem Ultimate Rewards through the Chase Travel Portal at rates like 1.25 cents per point and 1.5 cents per point.
Being able to transfer your Ultimate Rewards to travel partners and redeem them at rates like 1.5 cents per point through the Chase portal greatly expands your redemption possibilities and opens up the potential for obtaining more value from your points.
If you can open up a Chase Freedom and successfully manage that card for 6 months to a year while driving up your credit score, then you’ll increase your odds for getting approved for a card like the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve. Also, you’ll already have Ultimate Rewards in the bank just waiting to be transferred to travel partners. (If you didn’t want to save your points you could always redeem them for cash back in the meantime.)
Going this route also ensures that you won’t be excluded form being approved for these cards due to 5/24, which is a restriction that does not allow you to be approved for certain Chase credit cards if you’ve opened 5 or more new accounts within the past 24 months. Following this route allows you to get on board with these Chase cards before it’s too late.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.