The College Search: What Is Upromise?

An option for increasing college savings is upromise, an organization that allows you to have a portion of the money you spend on consumer goods kicked back into your children's 529 account.

May 12, 2010 7:33:13 AM PDT
Upromise (pronounced u-promise) is an organization that allows parents to receive kickbacks from merchants that can be used to help pay their children's college bills.

Thousands of name-brand retailers and other consumer services are involved with this, and it's a good bet that within the next week, you'll be buying something from one of them. If you're not a upromise member, you're missing out.

You sign-up for this service online at

At that time, you enter your credit card numbers, and pharmacy cards. Once you're accepted, any time you use those cards at a member store, a percentage of the money you spend is kicked back into your upromise account. You can then link that money to your 529 College Savings Account, essentially growing that account balance even if you're not making any other contributions.

Some of the savings are marginal. You may get a few cents for buying certain items at the grocery store. In other cases, the pay-off is much better. The best ways to earn come from shopping online through the upromise website, and signing-up for the upromise credit card. To shop online, you simply search for either an item or a specific merchant using the search tool, which directs you to the same site(s) you would've gone to anyway. Only now, when you buy, a percentage of the sale gets kicked back to your upromise account. The amount varies, but 1-2% is typical, and 5-10% is also possible, especially during special promotions. The percentage you receive is clearly noted, and it's even possible to comparison shop for the best price of an item, along with the best kickback.

The upromise MasterCard is even better. 1% of everything you charge comes back to you. And there is no limit on earnings.

As an example of how this works, I recently bought a digital camera for my wife. I got it on sale at a well-known electronics retailer for about $175. I used my upromise credit card which paid 1% of the cost back to me, and I also got 2% kicked back by the merchant. As a result, I know have an extra $5.25 in my kid's college savings account, all for the exact same purchase I would've made anyway.

If you like to eat out, there are hundreds of restaurants in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys that participate, and the typical kickback is between 4-8% of the total bill, including the tip. If you pay with the upromise credit card, you also get the extra 1%. Some restaurants only offer this incentive on weeknights, and it's important to check the details for each establishment on the upromise website before assuming you're getting the deal.

Do you drive a lot? By using a certain brand of gasoline, 2% of every fill-up comes back to you (3% if you use the upromise card).

Interested relatives can also get involved by signing up for their own upromise credit cards and having them linked to your account.

So, what's the catch?

Are their negatives to the program? Yes. As stated, the best way to earn money through upromise is by religiously using their credit card. But if you're not used to charging all of your purchases, you may have a harder time budgeting for the exploding monthly credit card bill you will now be receiving. And while the card is administered by Bank of America, a fairly well-known provider, the interest rates and fees are as unforgiving as most other cards, should you fall behind. Also, by aligning yourself with the upromise card, you're going to miss out on any incentives you used to receive from other cards (airline miles, new car savings, etc.). You'll have to weigh carefully whether this tradeoff is worth it. Finally, if you're not a particularly big spender, the savings won't necessarily amount to much.

In our case, over four years, we've had about $2400 kicked back into our 529 account which is now available to us for paying off college debt---not exactly a bonanza, but a nice little bonus that's been earning tax-free interest and growing. To achieve this sort of result, we've had to be pretty aggressive. Everything goes on the upromise card in our house, from groceries and gasoline, to the cell phone bill and even my Phillies season tickets. We only book vacations through upromise-friendly travel websites, and most of our holiday and birthday shopping is done online through the upromise site. When I renovated my daughter's bathroom last year, I made sure to purchase all my materials and fixtures through participating merchants (the same places I probably would've used anyway, by the way), and I ordered most of it online where I could get the extra 2% kicked back to me. That project alone put several hundred dollars into our 529.

MORE COLLEGE SEARCH ARTICLES: Federal Need-Based Aid, Can I Ask For More Aid?, 529 Accounts, Myths About The Cost, The Best Way To Pay, High School Course/Activities, ACT/SAT, How Many Colleges Should I Put On My List?, Compiling A List, Unsolicited Brochures, Campus Visits, Applying For Admission, Types of Applications, College Trouble, College Depression, NCAA Athletics, Athletic Scholarships, The College Search Preface

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