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Here's Chase Freedom 5% cash-back calendar so you can plan your spending

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Chase Freedom® credit card holders can activate bonus 5% cash-back categories for the last quarter of the year now through December 14. Cardholders earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in spending across purchases made at department stores and via PayPal and Chase Pay (then 1%).

Below, CNBC Select shares the cash-back calendar for 2019, and how you can use a 5% cash-back card to your advantage.

Chase Freedom® cash-back calendar 2019

Chase reveals new bonus categories each quarter, unlike Discover, which releases its full 5% cash-back calendar about two months before the start of a new year.

Here are the bonus categories for 2019:

  • January to March (activation closed): gas stations, tolls and drug stores
  • April to June (activation closed): grocery stores and home improvement stores, excluding Target and Walmart
  • July to September (activation closed): gas stations and select streaming services
  • October to December (activate through Dec. 14): department stores (including Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and Macys; view full list of participating stores) and purchases made using PayPal and Chase Pay

Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®
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Information about the Chase Freedom® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate, 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $150 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers

  • Variable APR

    16.74% to 25.49%

  • Balance transfer fee

    Intro fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that: Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • Long intro offer on purchases and balance transfers

Cons

  • Activation is required for bonus categories
  • Low 1% cash back on everyday spending
  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee
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Information about the Chase Freedom® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

Chase cash-back calendar vs. Discover cash-back calendar

Chase and Discover are the two most popular card issuers offering 5% cash-back cards. Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two cash-back calendars for 2019.

Quarter Chase Discover
January to MarchGas stations, tolls and drug storesGrocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart)
April to JuneGrocery stores (excluding Target and Walmart) and home improvement storesGas stations, Uber and Lyft
July to SeptemberGas stations and select streaming servicesRestaurants and PayPal
October to DecemberDepartment stores, PayPal and Chase PayAmazon.com, Target and Walmart.com

During 2019, both Chase and Discover included common spending categories, such as grocery stores and gas stations, in their calendars. Discover also included restaurants, which Chase did not.

Looking at the last quarter of the year, both issuers geared bonus categories toward holiday shopping, but Chase opted for department stores and select digital wallets while Discover chose Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com.

How 5% cash-back credit cards work

In order to benefit from 5% cash back, you're required to activate bonus categories each quarter. Once you activate bonus categories, you can start earning 5% cash back. Chase allows you to save activation reminders to your calendar and set up email alerts.

There are limits to how much spending qualifies for 5% cash back each quarter. After you spend a combined $1,500 in the bonus categories, the cash-back rate drops to 1%. This maximum spending requirement resets every quarter.

All other purchases made outside the bonus categories automatically earn 1% cash back. If you're looking to optimize how many points you can earn, we suggest using an alternative cash-back or rewards credit card for spending outside the bonus categories, so you earn at least 2% or 2 points per dollar spent.

The Citi® Double Cash Card ranks as No.1 cash-back card with no annual fee and earns cardholders an effective 2% cash back: 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay for purchases.

Information about the Chase Freedom® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.