Upromise Review

A note from Slug:  This is another guest post from Noreen who last week wowed Sunk Costs Are Irrelevant readers with her discussion of the impact of federal regulation D on online bank transfers.  This week she's written a nice review of Upromise.  It's hard to contextualize exactly what Upromise is. Upromise is a rewards program, a passive investment strategy, a credit card, a savings tool. To me it's also $1,692.78. That's the amount of money I've basically gotten for free by participating in the Upromise programs since October, 2002. I think signing up for Upromise is another no-brainer.  I don't use the credit card much anymore due to the low rewards, but I still have all my grocery cards linked.

Since this review, there have been some major changes to the Upromise program.  Please see this important update.

Is the Upromise Rewards Program for Real?

Having reviewed too many rewards program to count, it’s clear that the majority vary little from one another, each using the same formula of cash rebates and merchandise rewards to appeal to budget conscious consumers. On the other hand, a minority are geared toward a specific target audience, like frequent flier mile programs. But the Upromise program by Sallie Mae is an especially unique program, offering the opportunity to earn cash from everyday purchases that can be contributed to college saving accounts.  

Overview of the Upromise Program

Launched in 2001, 10 million Upromise members have received more than $625 million in college savings accounts. By joining Upromise, you’ll earn rebates that can be credited to a college savings account on purchases from thousands of retailers, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, travel services and companies. Every time you purchase an eligible good or service with an Upromise contributing company, a portion of your purchase price will be rebated to your account. Take advantage of special merchant offers for free or reduced shipping rates for their Upromise customers to save even more. Designate one or more of your children as beneficiaries and begin earning.

The program is free to join at Upromise.com and provides multiple ways to earn cash.

  • Retail loyalty cardsRegister all your loyalty cards, groceries, drug stores, office supply stores, etc. and receive a percentage on those purchases.
  • Credit and Debit cardsRegister your credit and debit cards; make purchases with those cards and rebates from thousands of participating vendors will automatically accumulate.
  • Upromise online storeGet even bigger rewards by shopping through Upromise.com and get 1%-25% back from eligible purchases at more than 600 online retailers.
  • Eat at participating restaurantsGet up to 8% back from more than 8,000 restaurants as a Preferred Diner when you pay with a registered credit or debit card.
  • E-couponsVisit the website, choose your coupons and they’ll be instantly applied to that stores’ loyalty card. Purchase the items and the coupon will be applied when the loyalty card is scanned. The receipt will shows the savings and your account will reflect it, as well. Coupons change monthly.
  • Family and friendsSend a personalized email to friends and family inviting them to sponsor your child by enrolling and designating your child as the beneficiary. Members who have people helping them earn on average over 2 times more than members who don't.

Rewards can be deposited into a Upromise account, a tax-deferred 529 college savings plan, a Sallie Mae savings account or applied to an eligible Sallie Mae student loan. A cash rebate can also be requested to spend as you like, reward money is not required to be spent on college-related expenses

Critics of cash back shopping argue that the eligible items are more expensive brand items and exclude store or generic brands. But is this different from the traditional coupons we use at brick-and-mortar stores? Go ahead and buy those items that are less expensive. Whether you purchase less expensive generics or store products or choose to pay more for brand names that qualify for a cash rebate, you’ll be saving money.

Another claim against the program is that retailers artificially inflate the price of those items that qualify for the rebate. But after doing my own bit of online research using my own Upromise account, I found that the prices remained the same whether I shopped through the website or strictly from my browser. One additional bonus I observed is when a merchant sends me a loyalty bonus email, say for free shipping, it is applied when I enter their site through the Upromise website. But keep in mind that the stores that partner with Upromise may not have the lowest prices among their competitors.

The Pitch for the Upromise® MasterCard

The Upromise MasterCard, issued by Bank of America, is offered to consumers with excellent credit. Begin saving with a $25 bonus deposited after your first qualifying transaction. The current introductory offer is for 12 months of 0% APR on purchases; the ongoing rate following that period is between 12.99% and 20.99%. Enjoy unlimited earnings, flexible redemption options and no annual fee. Receive between 1% and 3% cash back on eligible purchases: 1% on ALL your purchases, 2% EXTRA on eligible online purchases and an EXTRA 10% on eligible groceries.

My Opinion about the Upromise Reward Program and MasterCard
The program is a win-win situation for anyone looking for a simple way to contribute to a college fund. While the odds of the program covering the cost of tuition are unlikely, it’s possible to earn a couple hundred, or even a few thousand dollars. And who couldn’t find good uses for even less than that?

While it’s true that for most people only a small percentage of their purchases will qualify for rewards, with regular use, in addition to paying the balance in full each month, the savings can really add up. The more you shop with Upromise partners and take advantage of the hundreds of rebate opportunities, the more your savings will grow. In addition, by harnessing the power of grandparents, extended family and friends, earnings can be multiplied even faster.

The Upromise MasterCard is much like other cash back reward cards. The best interest rates are reserved for those with the best credit histories and the percentages used to reward for purchases are commonly used across the spectrum of the credit card industry. Review your account activity online to see where you make the most progress and watch the savings accumulate. Rewards may only trickle in, but patience and commitment will be rewarded in the long run. And as with all credit card reward programs, the only real rewards are those that come from paying off the balance each month.
The Upromise MasterCard is a good choice for anyone interested in making their credit card purchases work for them. In conjunction with the reward program, it’s simply a smart way to shop, as long as the credit balance is paid off each month.

About The Author: Noreen Ruth writes for ASAP credit card blog and several popular finance websites. She is interested in educating consumers about using credit responsibly and about legislative action that will affect their ability to borrow the money they need. She has contributed hundreds of articles to various online sites that provide content to educate consumers on credit card offers, debt relief services, loans and other finance related topics.
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