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The Upgrade family of cards is indeed legit.
Created by the financial technology company Upgrade and issued by Sutton Bank, the cards blend features of both credit cards and personal loans, and in at least one case, even debit cards. You can use them to make purchases wherever Visa cards are accepted and pay down your balance by making equal monthly payments with a fixed interest rate. You can also borrow against your credit limit by requesting that funds be sent to your bank account, and you’ll pay that off much like a personal loan, also in equal monthly installments.
The Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa® makes NerdWallet's list of best credit cards, as one of the top cards for average credit (FICO scores from 630 to 689).
What cards does Upgrade offer?
Upgrade offers five cards:
The Upgrade OneCard.
The first four options function as credit card/personal loan hybrid products. Read on to see how the five cards compare to each other.
Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®
1.5% cash back on all purchases. Cash back will be applied to the next month’s balance on your card.
Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Visa®
Earn 3% cash back on home, auto and health purchases. Earn 1% cash back on everything else. Cash back will be applied to the next month’s balance on your card.
Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Visa® Credit Card
Earn 1.5% back on all purchases in the form of bitcoin. As you make payments, bitcoins will be purchased on your behalf and held in a cryptocurrency wallet.
Upgrade Life Rewards Visa® Card
Earn 3% cash back on gas and electric vehicle charging stations, grocery stores (including supermarkets and convenience stores), streaming and cable services, utilities and telecommunication services, and health services. Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
WHAT'S THE SAME ON ALL CARDS
Typically $500 to $25,000. (Some borrowers may qualify for up to $50,000.)
The ongoing APR is 14.99%-29.99%.
How is the Upgrade OneCard different from the other Upgrade cards?
The Upgrade OneCard, among the newest members of Upgrade’s suite of cards, is different from its sibling cards in a few key ways. It, too, has features of a credit card and personal loan, but also those of a debit card. The OneCard allows you to pay off purchases in full through a linked checking account or pay them off over time with interest, depending on your preference.
The OneCard’s rewards structure is also different — and more complicated — compared to the other Upgrade cards. If you qualify, you can earn:
3% cash back on “everyday” purchases, which the issuer defines as purchases from convenience stores, drugstores, restaurants and gas stations. Utilities and payments for phone, cable, TV and streaming services also qualify for the 3% rate. (The 3% rate is capped at $500 per year, after which you'll earn only 2%.)
2% cash back on all other purchases.
However, opening an Upgrade Rewards Checking account is required to earn those rewards rates. You also must do one of the following: Keep an average daily balance of at least $2,500; receive direct deposits of at least $1,000 per month; or make at least eight eligible purchases with your Rewards Checking debit card each month. If you don’t maintain an active Rewards Checking account throughout the month, you’ll earn only 1.5% cash back with the OneCard.
When it comes to the annual fee, credit limit and APR, the Upgrade OneCard is identical to the other three cards.
» LEARN: Which Upgrade card is right for you?
Do all the Upgrade cards earn rewards?
Yes, but rewards vary by card:
The Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa® earns 1.5% cash back on all purchases when you pay them back. (Cash back will be applied to the next month’s balance on your card.)
The Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Visa® earns 3% cash back in home, auto and health spending categories and 1% on everything else, also earned when you pay eligible purchases back and also applied to the next month's balance.
The Upgrade Life Rewards Visa® earns 3% cash back on gas and electric vehicle charging stations, grocery stores (including supermarkets and convenience stores), streaming and cable services, utilities and telecommunication services, and health services including gyms, spas, pharmacies, doctor visits and sporting goods stores. All additional purchases will earn 1% cash back, also earned when you pay eligible purchases back and also applied to the next month's balance.
The Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Visa® Credit Card works a bit differently. You earn 1.5% back as you make payments on your balance, and those earnings are used to purchase bitcoin on your behalf. They’re held in a wallet provided by NYDIG, a custody and trading platform.
The Upgrade OneCard's rewards structure is listed above.
Depending on your credit history and other financial factors, you may qualify for a version of the card that doesn’t offer rewards.
Are the Upgrade cards actually credit cards?
Technically no. An Upgrade card looks like a credit card, and since you can use it in stores, it acts like a credit card. But it’s actually considered a “series of closed-end loans,'' according to the terms and conditions. Any time you make a purchase or request that funds be transferred to your bank account, you’re borrowing against your credit limit (which can range from $500 to $50,000, with most limits being $25,000 and under).
You can borrow from that limit multiple times simultaneously. And instead of making at least a minimum payment when the bill is due, you’re making payments in equal installments like you would with a personal loan.
Do the Upgrade cards report to U.S. credit bureaus?
On-time payments are reported to the credit bureaus, which can help you build your credit score over time. However, Upgrade doesn’t report your total credit limit, so credit utilization isn’t a factor in the case of these cards.
What else makes the Upgrade cards unique?
Besides their credit card/personal loan hybrid functionality, there are some other notable features that set the Upgrade cards apart from more traditional credit card products:
You can qualify with fair credit. There aren't a lot of credit cards for those with fair credit, and the ones that do exist aren't known for their rewards. But the Upgrade cards are available to applicants in that credit range, and they do offer compelling rewards on par with cards designed for good to excellent credit (FICO scores of 690 or higher).
You can see what you’d qualify for without affecting your credit scores. Typically, applying for a credit card or other loan involves a hard credit inquiry, which can temporarily lower your credit scores. With the Upgrade cards, you can see what credit limit and APR you’d qualify for before you apply, without sacrificing precious points. (A hard credit will be conducted once you officially apply for the card, however.)
You can begin using the card immediately upon approval. If your application is approved, you’ll get access to a virtual card with a temporary card number. You can use this while you wait to receive the physical card in the mail.