Upromise.com and Back to School Savings

upromise graphic

Upromise.com is a subsidiary of the student loan giant Sallie Mae, which offers members a unique way to save for tuition and student loan payments with everything they buy. Here are the important stats, calculated 9/18/12:

  • Average rewards rate: 5.26% (check out our calculation here. Upromise’s portal partners with 39 of the 40 stores we tested).
  • # of stores: over 800
  • Cash back posts: approximately 10 -45 business days from purchase

Top 3 Things to Know about Upromise

  1. You can request a check to redeem your earnings.
  2. 5% minimum rewards rate, 10% if you pay with Upromise World MasterCard.
  3. In-store, travel, gift card, dining, grocery, and gas earning options as well.

Insider’s Tips

  • Don’t shop online with a mobile device. Upromise’s website notes that there are some technical difficulties with tracking purchases made on phones and tablets. Until this is resolved, just stay safe and make the purchases with the laptop or home computer.
  • Don’t use Apple Safari. The Upromise site also mentions that they’re having some problems with tracking buys made with the Safari browser. Just opt for Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer instead.
  • Get the Upromise World MasterCardThe card pays a base 1% rewards rate on all eligible purchases, 4% at Upromise participating restaurants, 3% at partnering gas stations, and 2% at select movie theatres. Plus you get an additional 5% when shopping at Upromise’s online shopping portal, which is taken on top of the online portal’s minimum 5%. A 10% back reward is an excellent rate compared to other online malls. The card has no annual fee, so there’s no excuse for shopping for 5% at Upromise’s online mall when you could be getting 10%.

How to Earn with Upromise

First, let’s start with the basics on how the program works. Members enroll on the Upromise website to get started. After that, there are a variety of ways to both earn cash rewards for college and put this money to use. For all of these methods, the savings will be deposited into your Upromise account.

The first way to earn cash with Upromise is through their online shopping portal. Upromise.com, much like travel rewards malls, credit card issuer rewards malls, or independent cash back websites, has partnerships to offer savings with hundreds of different retailers.

If you wish to shop online at any of these stores, you simply need to log in to Upromise’s shopping portal, then click through to your desired retailer’s homepage. A cookie will be placed on your browser so Upromise can track your purchases and give the appropriate cash back – always 5% or more of your total purchase.

The Upromise.com portal has a travel section as well, which works the same way as described above. Shopping for travel services (packages, cruises, airfare, car rentals, etc) will net you up to 5%, with hotel bookings at 5% or more.

Another way to earn cash is through dining at restaurants or shopping at certain local stores. For instance, you can register a debit or credit card with Upromise, then go out to eat or buy gift certificates at participating restaurants. This strategy will earn you up to 8% cash back at these establishments. You can also purchase gas at Exxon or Mobil locations, and save 1 cent per gallon for college if you buy 20 or more gallons in a calendar month.

Family and friends can jump on board too. According to Abby Harper, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae, “Family and Friends is a unique program where you can send an invitation to have the people in your life use Upromise and direct their rewards to your account.  We find that many families are successful with this program, specifically with bringing grandparents in to help save.”

Finally, you can earn college money with grocery coupons. You register your grocery or drugstore card with Upromise, download coupons from Upromise.com, then scan your grocery card at checkout like normal.

What to Do With Upromise Dollars? 

There are 4 main ways to redeem Upromise earnings. The first is with a high-yield account from Sallie Mae. Your Upromise account savings will automatically transfer into this account every month if you link the two accounts, and on top of that Upromise pledges to contribute a 10% annual match on your Upromise earnings to this account.

Basically, if you save $100 on Upromise in one year, Upromise will deposit $10 into your high-yield savings at the end of the year if you choose this option. To be eligible for this 10% annual match, you must either set up an automatic savings plan with a monthly deposit of $25 or more, or fund your high yield savings account with at least $5,000.  Either option has to be completed within 90 days of opening the high yield account.

The next savings plan is a 529 college savings account. Specifically designed for long-term college savings, these accounts boast substantial federal and state tax benefits. If you set up a Upromise Investments-administered 529 plan, you can get your Upromise earnings deposited automatically into your 529.

Upromise can help with your student loans, as well. Linking a Sallie Mae student loan to your Upromise account will again automatically transfer Upromise savings of over $10 to these loans to help pay down the balance. Upromise also pledges to refund 2% of your loan payment amount back into your Upromise account for each on time payment during the in-school and separation periods.

The fourth and final way to redeem Upromise earnings with a standard check. You can request to have a check mailed to you for Upromise earnings of $10 or more once a quarter.

Results?

According to Debby Hohler, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae, Upromise members have saved over $700 million since the program’s launch in 2001. She also noted that Upromise has millions of members and has grown steadily in recent years.

Our take? The Upromise World MasterCard makes it all truly worth it. While Ms. Hohler noted that understanding all the ways to save is a big challenge for members, we feel that the Upromise card’s 10% back for online shopping simplifies things. Get the card, know the special categories (movie theatres, gas, restaurants) and use the card when you need to buy online.

Keeping a no annual fee card around is also an easy way to boost your credit score on the cheap, as your credit score is substantially influenced by the length of time your credit lines have been open. You’ll get great rewards for all your day-to-day purchases, you’ll start building an excellent credit history, and you’ll save for college. This can’t be the only way you financially prepare for college and the real world afterward, but as a small part of a multidimensional plan, Upromise gives good rewards for your time and effort.

How We Calculated the 5.26% Average Rewards Rate

For our calculations of average rewards rate, we checked the Upromise rate at the 40 major stores listed below. Note that the blank space is where the Upromise portal didn’t have the merchant listed as a partner – we used the same 40 stores across multiple portals to normalize our results. Upromise’s mall missed with 1 of the 40 stores. This store was excluded from calculating the average.

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Retailer Upromise Rewards Rate
1-800-Flowers.com 10%
Aeropostale 5%
Apple Store 5%
Avon 5%
Bath and Body Works 5%
Bed Bath and Beyond 5%
Best Buy 5%
Buy.com 5%
Crate and Barrel 5%
Dell Home 5%
Foot Locker 5%
Game Stop 5%
GAP 5%
Home Depot 5%
HP 5%
HSN 5%
J.Crew 5%
JCPenney 5%
Kmart 5%
Kohl’s 5%
L.L. Bean 5%
Lowe’s 5%
Macy’s 5%
Newegg.com
Office Depot 5%
OfficeMax 5%
Overstock.com 5%
PetSmart 5%
RadioShack 5%
Sears 5%
Shoebuy.com 10%
Sony 5%
Sports Authority 5%
Staples 5%
Starbucks Store 5%
Target 5%
Toys ‘R’ Us 5%
Urban Outfitters 5%
Victoria’s Secret 5%
Wal-Mart 5%
5.26%
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  • Confused College Mom

    How do I transfer money to the account of the student I’m saving money for? It tells me that I have money available to transfer to “Family and Friends” but I can’t figure out how to actually transfer it.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hi there,

      You’ll want to “Link an account,” an option you’ll find under the top “Redeem” navigation header. You can link your Upromise account to your student’s high-yield savings account, 529 plan, or Sallie Mae loan. You will need to provide details on your student’s account to enable this linking. Once you successfully link your Upromise savings to your student’s account, your Upromise earnings (if they exceed the minimum transfer amount) can be transferred monthly or quarterly. Hope this helps!

  • LT

    I have been a member of Upromise since August 2006. My credit cards are registered with them, as well as my grocery cards. The majority of my shopping for non-food items is online. I always check Upromise before making a purchase. I have only earned a little more than $200 in the past eight years. I would say that at least 50 percent of the time I do not receive credit for my purchases. Somehow there is no record of me accessing partner sites through Upromise.