The Best Credit Card for Emergencies (Financial & Medical) [2018]

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. UponArriving has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. UponArriving and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. 

57% of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover a $500 unexpected expense, according to a survey from Bankrate. That’s a scary statistic considering that emergencies are just a fact of life. But there are plenty of ways that you can prepare yourself for these situations. One way is to have a solid credit card that won’t penalize you with interest whenever your emergency situation arises.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited is one of the best credit cards for emergencies for a number of reasons, but mostly due to one very specific and unique perk which I’ll get into below. 

Update: Some offers are no longer available — click here for the latest deals!

But first a quick word on emergency funds.

Emergency fund

Ideally you would have an emergency fund of cash set aside for various types of emergencies. Whether it’s for fixing a broken water heater, an unexpected trip to the vet, or some funds to hold you over in between jobs, you need some type of assurance that you’ll be able to get through unexpected financial hurdles.

Many state that you should have two weeks pay set aside for your fund but you can use this Ally calculator to help you determine how big of an emergency fund you need based on your income and expenses.

But maybe you haven’t had the time or resources to build up an emergency fund yet….

If that’s the case then a credit card can be that safety net until you can build up your emergency fund.

Or maybe you already have some funds set aside but you want even more assurance that you’ll be covered in the event of the unexpected.

In either situation, it can make a lot of sense to rely on a credit card for back up.

Below are 7 factors that I would consider when choosing a credit card for emergencies and why I feel the Chase Freedom Unlimited is ideal for these situations.

1. 0% APR

I want an emergency credit card that’s not going to force me to pay interest if I can’t pay off the statement within 30 days.  There are plenty of 0% APR credit cards out there but most of them come with intro 0% APR periods spanning from 9 to 15 months from the time that you opened up the card.

Those can cover you for that initial time period after approval but what happens if your emergency happens after than intro APR period expires?

This is why the Chase Freedom Unlimited is so special.

It offers 0% promotional APR for 6 months from date of purchase on purchases of $399 or more. That’s literally perfect for emergencies and you’re not going to find many cards that offer that type of 0% APR structure.

Getting half a year to cover your emergency expenses without a penalty is awesome. 

Update: offer no longer available 

2. Visa card

Although the acceptance of Amex and Discover is growing, I’ve still seen plenty of places that will only take Visa or MasterCard. If you go with a Visa card for your emergency you’ll increase the chances that the merchant you need to deal with will accept your credit card. The Chase Freedom cards on the Visa payment network so you’re covered here.

3. Annual fee

I want an emergency credit card with no annual fee since I may never even have to use that card.

There are so many quality no annual fee credit cards that I’m not sure that I’d go with a card that had an annual fee. In this case, the Chase Freedom Unlimited does not have an annual fee, so you can hold on to it as long as needed without incurring any costs.

I would still try to use it at least every few months just to keep it active though so that it won’t ever get closed.

4. Credit lines

I’ve been approved for some decent credit lines ($5,000) on my Freedom cards but they haven’t been the highest. One way to combat this is to open up a Chase Freedom and a Chase Freedom Unlimited at the same time.

You can then transfer your credit line from the Chase Freedom to the Chase Freedom Unlimited and increase the credit line. Most emergencies aren’t going to require thousands upon thousands of dollars but having that extra high credit limit will prevent your utilization from spiking if your credit limits aren’t very high, which will improve your credit score.

Since both cards come with no annual fee, there’s no harm in keeping both cards.

Also, the credit inquiries will likely be combined so you’ll be minimizing the impact on your credit score by applying for two Freedom cards at the same time. Read more about applying for Chase credit cards here

5. Good rewards

You might as well earn some cash back on your emergency expenses since you’d be paying for them anyway. In this case, earning 1.5% cash back in the form of Ultimate Rewards is actually quite nice. I don’t think that rewards should really play a major role in seeking out a card for emergency purposes (and some would say it should play no role at all).

But when it comes to expenses that you know 100% that you’d be making anyway, my philosophy is that you might as well earn something back on them. It can also help take a little bit of the sting out of your situation.

6. Foreign transaction fees

Unfortunately, the Freedom Unlimited does have foreign transaction fees. So if you’re looking for a card for dealing with emergencies when abroad, you might want to consider other cards. I’d look into Capital One Visa cards personally.

Not only do they have no annual fee cards without foreign transaction fees but their Visa cards are not subject to the recent Visa restrictions on Plastiq. This means that if you have a Capital One card, you’ll be able to use Plastiq to pay for many emergencies where those merchants don’t accept credit cards.

7. Medical emergencies

For medical emergencies you might be able to look into options like Care Credit or Wells Fargo Health Advantage that offer 0% APR but you’ll need to apply and be approved for those cards on the spot. Also, those cards often come with deferred interest which can backfire on you big time if you don’t pay off your balance in time.

And once again, those typically offer intro APR periods — not the the type of rolling interest free periods offered by the Freedom Unlimited.

Final word

The Freedom Unlimited doesn’t shine on every single one of the above factors but the most important factor to me is the 6 month 0% APR period which you can use at any time. It’s a unique perk designed perfect for emergencies and I personally hold the Freedom Unlimited and plan on relying on it if I’m ever not able to cover an unexpected situation with an emergency fund. 

UponArriving has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. UponArriving and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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