Have you heard of Upromise for college rewards? Upromise has been around for a while, but is still confusing to many families. Keep reading to learn how Upromise works, pros and cons, and whether Upromise is worth the trouble.
Background on Upromise
Upromise was started in 2000. At the time, 529 college savings plans were still new and Upromise was launched to coincide with the growing interest in ways to save for higher education. Upromise has undergone a number of changes in what they offer to the public since then. The organization has also been bought and sold several times. Today, Upromise is most associated with their programs advertised to help college savings. Currently, Upromise is owned by Prodege, a marketing company that also owns a number of online rewards and marketing programs.
What is Upromise?
Upromise is a shopping rewards company that markets itself as a way to save money for college. The company has several different offers in the marketplace that can be confusing. It’s also important to know that Upromise has changed quite a bit over the years. The programs are different now than they were just a few years ago.
How do you earn rewards with Upromise?
There’s three ways to earn rewards with Upromise.
The Upromise Credit Card (Mastercard)
Upromise offers a credit card through Mastercard/Barclays that gives rewards. The card can be linked with your Upromise account to automatically transfer reward points as they accumulate. Any purchase yields a reward, but a higher level of award is given when using the card for Upromise affiliated merchants and restaurants (see below).
Upromise has a directory for members of merchants and “offers”. When a Upromise member clicks on one of these listings and makes a purchase, rewards are transferred to your Upromise account. If you make the purchase with the Upromise credit card, a higher percentage is awarded. No, Amazon does not participate.
Certain restaurants, local and chains, participate in the Upromise program. As part of your Upromise account, you can look up restaurants to see who participates. Restaurant rewards are accumulated through two methods. First, you link your existing credit/debit card to your Upromise account. Any meal charges at a participating restaurant receive reward points. Second, if you have the Upromise credit card, you accumulate points the same way and also receive a higher reward percentage.
Pros and Cons of Upromise
The program is “free”
There’s not a fee to join Upromise or an ongoing monthly/yearly fee. Keep in mind this does not include the credit card that charges interest if you keep a balance just like any other card. The overall rewards program has no ongoing membership fee.
You may be spending money at merchants or restaurants anyway
If a local restaurant you visit often happens to participate, then you could easily benefit from joining the program and getting rewards on family outings to eat out.
Money goes to a 529
When setup is done correctly, rewards are transferred to a 529 college savings account. In a 529, dollars are able to grow and compound over time.
Upromise will sell your personal information
Upromise is no different from other shopping rewards companies. One of the ways these types of companies make money is by selling your information to third parties.
The shopping “deals” are not great
When you use the directory for online retailers and shopping offers, the discounts are not deep discounts. In many cases, you can find a comparable discount by some searching online.
There’s lots of moving parts
Upromise is complicated compared to some other rewards programs available to the public. For example, to get the benefit of dollars going to a 529, you’ll have to link a 529 account for your child to Upromise. If you miss this step, then the dollars don’t get saved for college down the road. The rewards are also on a delay. The time between when you make a purchase and the reward dollars show up in a 529 plan can be extensive.
Tips for getting the most out of Upromise Rewards
If you decide to try the program, here’s a few things to keep in mind.
Don’t Buy Things You Wouldn’t Buy Anyway
Coupons don’t save you money if you buy things you wouldn’t buy anyway. The same goes for reward programs like Upromise. If you earn rewards on something you already plan to buy, then you may benefit. Spending to accumulate reward helps others, not your family.
Don’t Forget to Link Up Accounts
To get the full benefit, you’ll probably have to link up your credit/debit cards.
Don’t Forget to Manage Your 529
If money is going to a 529 college savings plan, that’s great. It’s still important to keep an eye on that account and ensure any money you put in, including reward dollars, are appropriately invested and growing over time. If you don’t have a 529 connected, then rewards will go to you as regular cash.
Keep Links Updated
If you change cards, you’ll need to update Upromise with the new card’s information. Otherwise, any rewards will probably grind to halt.
Consider getting family involved
Upromise will let you include participants outside of your immediate family. For example, grandparents could link their credit/debit cards to your Upromise account your children could benefit.
Other Uses for Upromise
There's some other ways you can use Upromise beyond the scope of this post. One example, is you can use rewards to just send money to a regular checking account.
Can you pay for college with Upromise?
Almost certainly not. It’s very unlikely even with using the program over 18 years combined with growth in a 529 plan that you could accumulate enough money to cover tuition, fees, etc. for 4 years of college. Could it help? Yes. Upromise, used correctly, could be a part of your family’s strategy to save for college.
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