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Is Upromise a Scam?

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There are a lot of programs out there, and you might be worried about which programs are legitimate, and which really will help you earn rewards and save money. One of the more popular programs out there is Upromise, acquired by Sallie Mae in August of 2006.

Upromise is a program designed to help you save up for college. The idea is that every day purchases can add up over time so that your child has enough to go to college. Upromise comes with the added benefit of allowing you invest your rewards money into a 529 college savings plan and help pay down your student loans.

How Does Upromise Work?

Upromise works by helping you earn money for college. You don’t need a credit card to participate. You sign up, and then you can register different shopper loyalty cards at different grocery stores, as well as debit cards. When you buy certain items (not all items will provide you with money), a few cents are put into your Upromise account.

You can speed up the process with the help of a Upromise branded credit card (currently through Bank of America) and by shopping with particular partners online. If you shop through the Upromise site, a percentage of purchases at various retailers, from Wal-Mart to Amazon, and travel sites, from airlines to aggregators like Expedia, goes into the Upromise account. If you use your credit card, you get 1% cash back into the account, plus you get the percentage of the purchase from the merchant in question.

The money accumulates over time, and you can use it for your child’s education. It’s possible to split your contributions as well; my parents split their Upromise rewards cash between their six grandchildren. It’s also possible to choose from a limited number of 529 college savings plans. You can invest the money you get from the program to help it work a little better.

The Reality of Upromise

It sounds promising, but in reality your money will add up slowly. Unless you have a strategy that involves purchasing everything with your Upromise card, and conscientiously doing most of your shopping through the Upromise web site (or using the browser plug-in to help you shop better), the amount you end up with will be quite small.

Also, you have to realize that you can lose the money you invest in the 529 plan if the markets go south. I’ve been doing Upromise since my nine-year-old son was two or three, without really thinking about it. Since I don’t have a plan, and I often use another rewards card instead of the Upromise card, in the last few years we’ve managed to save up enough to probably cover two semesters’ worth of books. But it’s better than nothing (I have a separate 529 plan, though).

Bottom Line

Upromise isn’t a scam. It’s a rewards program that can help you save up for your child’s education. However, the cash back you get for that purpose, even if you invest it in a 529 plan, isn’t likely to build to the point where you can cover four years of undergraduate education. While it might amount to a small bonus later on, you’re better off making a better plan to help your child pay for college.

{ 77 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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77 Responses to “Is Upromise a Scam?”

  1. Educate4Less says:

    Upromise can’t hurt but it may be a more productive to get a cash-back card (Amex Preferred Blue for instance) that offers better than 1% and add that cash-back amount to a savings plan of some kind. Preferred Blue offers 6% cash-back at supermarkets and 3% at gas stations and only costs $75/year.

    • Bruce says:

      Hahaha. You work for Amex? “Preferred Blue offers 6% cash-back at supermarkets and 3% at gas stations and only costs $75/year.”

      So you oppose 1% cash back that’s free (BTW; UPromise is 5%, but that’s not the point) and rather pay $75 up front to get 6% back? That’s as stupid as paying $90 for a credit card, in other words: Here’s my $90 to grant the right to rack up debt against a scandalous interest rate.

      Think again EducateLess (what’s in a name?)

  2. It depends how much your privacy is worth. Obviously, this isn’t free money because they are gaining access to all your transactions on cards you register.

    Personally, I don’t really care if they have this info. Who am I? I’m nobody.. If I can make a few bucks on places I already shop at and cash it out that’s fine with me..

  3. astuartgirl says:

    I tried it but I didn’t like it because you have to exit the site and go to the vendor’s site. It was not very user friendly in my opinion.

    • Anonymous says:

      You have to shop through their site which takes you to the vendor’s sites. It’s the only way you will get the rewards posted to your account. It’s actually not that difficult for free money.

      • Jim says:

        Free money isn’t free but those are hardly difficult steps to take.

        • connie says:

          Every 3 months, I get about $50 or more posted to my kids’ 529 accounts from Upromise. I simply do whatever online (or other) shopping I’d do normally. The prices are the same, and it isn’t a huge hassle. It also encouraged me to set up 529s and start these new accounts, in addition to other investments, adding a bit myself, monthly, which is a good thing. Markets go up and down, but investing is generally a good bet long term if you can just let the money sit.

  4. I signed up, but it seemed more like a time waster than anything else. I’d rather use my time working then investing in better options ESA & 529 as opposed to using their browser and shopping at Upromise sponsors.

  5. UPromise isn’t a scam, but it’s not a path to great riches, either. I’ve taken payouts in cash from the service, and I’m not one to turn my nose up at a $25 check, but the only way I use it is that I have my credit/debit cards on file so that when I go to certain restaurants I get cash back. Otherwise, I never think about it.

  6. NateUVM says:

    I agree that using UPromise when doing on-line shopping can be a little bit cumbersome. However, I completely think it is worth it, especially if you’re not doing any additional shopping just because you have a UPromise account.

    There’s obviously a HUGE benefit to using it when making large purchases (think air travel, tech gadgets, etc…). Bought a new laptop the other day. Easy $50 for my kid’s 529.

    Been able to sock away another ~$250 in the account over the 3+ years it’s been open. Not a whole lot of money, but not nothing, either. Maybe someday it will cover books…?

    And remember, this is all on top of whatever rewards your credit card might provide.

  7. Frugal says:

    I particpate in Upromise for a while now. I do not have a credit card from them and money grows very slowly.

    What I do not understand the headline of the article. Why would one feel that Upromise is a scam? I know so far only 5-7 replies are posted, but none indicates a scam. Was there any incident/news that I missed?

    • skip says:

      Actually it’s a good headline. I was offered Upromise today and I decided to investigate whether or not is was a scam before signing up. The headline here helped me find this site.

  8. Wayne says:

    Been using them ever since my girls were born. Treat it as extra money and not main source for college funding. Been with them for over 10 yrs and have accumulated just close to $2k. Not much but it is something.

    Money earned is transferred to their college savings plan which just changed from Vanguard to SPDR ETFs

  9. Christina D says:

    Definitely not a scam! We’ve gotten back over $1,000 since joining without having to do anything extra. The money transfers to a savings account automatically.

  10. reducereuserecycle says:

    I don’t know the internet term for it but I’m sure there is one for when the title has nothing to do with the article.

    Is Upromise a scam? Nope, not at all but got ya.

  11. CD says:

    I’ve had a Upromise 529 for years. Not too bad return @ 5% on purchases. Better than nothing!

  12. Rochelle says:

    I have been with upromise since 2002 and can say it is good if you really use it. Up until last year, I hadn’t really done anything with it and consequently, did earn much. Last year, I decided to get the credit card and use it exclusively. I managed to earn $368 in 2011!

  13. Kathleen Brown says:

    I have been successful with my Upromise account only since I got their Visa card; it gives 1% of every purchase, plus extra (often 5% extra) on Upromise purchases (no annual fee). Around Christmas last year, they sent out a booklet that had 15 and 20% off at some really good stores, such as Best Buy. Once I even used my Upromise to buy from Gift Certificates.com for Sears, then went to Sears through Upromise and used the gift certificates (read: double Upromise discount) and bought a fridge. The savings were really good. You DO have to work at it, though, and I think you must use the ‘Turbo Saver’, which tells you automatically that it’s a Upromise vendor and tells you how much you’ll save. CAUTION: When I first joined (about 6 years ago, I sometimes found that the prices were ‘jacked up’ for Upromise members, so that sometimes you were paying MORE thru Upromise, but I think they’ve addressed that. However, I ALWAYS make sure to log in without Upromise to verify). I think if you can get family members to do it too, then more power to you! I can’t help wondering, though, if it would be better to use, say American Express and just get money back (I think they are 1% on everything, and more on some things, like gas-don’t quote me on that).

  14. Olivia says:

    You don’t have to invest the cash in any vehicle. This is especially important for those of us who don’t use credit much. Those 529 fees add up. We took it out in cash for our eldest when he was in college (helped with books), and plan to do the same for his brother. It may not be a lot, but it is still something, and it’s “free” money.

  15. Karen says:

    Like most everything, you get OUT of the Upromise program what you put INTO it. By putting all of our expenses on the Upromise credit card (which we pay off in full every month), we earn at least $400/year for our daughter’s account. That’s MUCH better than the difficult-to-redeem airline tickets (with all of the blackout dates, new fees, etc.) that we used to earn. And I know we COULD be earning even more if we made an effort. We love the program!!
    PS – amazon.com is NOT a partner (I wish!).

    • Susan says:

      I totally agree with Karen. We have a Upromise credit card and use it to pay for everything we can. We pay the balance each month and earn at least $400/year, more when my daughter was in daycare and we could pay for that with the credit card. It’s a great program that gives you free money for paying your bills and shopping. Our account is linked to a 529 plan. We love Upromise!

  16. Luby says:

    I made $297 in 2 years with uPromise. I use it when I shop at WalMart online, other popular websites. $150 of this money came from eRewards survey program. I suggest don’t make a hastle with uPromise, but register your credit cards, you get cash back at some restaurants and gas stations just by using your regular credit card.

  17. Carolyn says:

    Awesome program, once you sign up, do nothing but your regular spending, and you get money back on your account.

    I put what ever can be used on my Upromise credit card, and it adds up. I have made $1700.00 in my account for the few years I had my account.

    No one pays you to send money. Though I started late in the game, it works, no scam. Do those that consider this a scam know the meaning of a scam?

    • David says:

      A scam is (among other things) when a website obtains your credit card number from you, and then (without disclosing that fact) keeps track of all your purchases, and sells that information to other websites or tracking agencies, which then in turn use it to make money, all without your knowlege or knowing consent. Of course, if you are happy with all that going on behind your back, then it is not a scam to you. Others might find it objectionable, and it would be a scam to them.

  18. Jennie says:

    Started UPromise when my son was three and he is now enrolled in College. We earned and saved enought for an entire year of school. If you sign up friends and family, every penny counts. It also depends on how much you add to your 529 account. Well worth it for us. I have another account for my 2nd son who will have enough for almost two years by time he goes to school in four years.

  19. David Z says:

    I’m advised that they do NOT work with Amazon.
    Can anybody confirm or deny this?

  20. Casey says:

    I don’t do the credit card but i did join e-rewards you do surveys on line and then save up “money” on line. When you hit “30$” you can cash it in and get $5 from upromise

  21. Leigh says:

    I signed up for upromised back in 2003, I didnt get the credit card but only registered my grocery and pharmacy store rewards cards, and also had my 2 sisters and my mom register theirs. I havnt done anything with the account and honestly forgot all about it.. I got an email from Upromise today and decided to take a minute and check my account and actually have $92 in there! Just from rewards cards.. I requested a check to be mailed to me which will come in very handy right now! Not too shabby..

  22. Joe says:

    It’s actually a pretty good program, if you use it correctly. I have been in the program for about 10 years. I make many purchases for my office, as well as personal ones, so I may be an exception to the rule. I have recieved about $15,000 so far from upromise and I have the account linked directly to a 529 account, so it has grown even larger. Making travel purchases, electronic purchases,etc. always adds a few bucks to the upromise account and I have been pleasantly surprised many times when money “appears” in my account from a restaurant that I dined out in that I didn’t know were part of the network. Bottom line, it is what you make it.

  23. Concerned says:

    My concern is the Grocery Store & eCoupon process!
    Today, none of the items that I saw on the Grocery Store’s shelves, which were flagged/labelled as Upromise earning purchases, appear on Upromise.com’s eCoupon page and vice-versa! How is this possible?!?!? Today, the local ShopRite had Land-o-Lakes eggs flagged as a Upromise earning
    purchase. I came home and re-checked the Upromise eCoupon page and Land-o-Lakes eggs are not on the
    webpage. I do not understand. Upromise’s Customer
    Service claims that the random purchase method was discontinued in March; that all purchases must be by eCoupon. Something is very wrong!

    • Rich says:

      No, you pretty much nailed it. Nothing is wrong. They changed their process for earning money on grocery purchases, but some grocery products still use the old labels, which is what is causing your confusion. That’s not UPromise’s fault.
      The way it works now is that you have to register your grocery shopper cards, and activate the monthly e-coupons on the UPromise site. You need an active coupon and you need to buy the product before it expires. Also, if you use your UPromise credit card, you get bonus savings on those specific groceries as well.

  24. michael says:

    This is no different than any other credit card rewards program, and to be honest the rewards rates are not the most competitive. For example, you would be better off using the Fidelity Amex card with 2% cash back on ALL purchases EVERYWHERE and putting the cash into whatever investment vehicle you like. There are also many other cards with better rates. You wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of tracking which store gives you which percentages either.

    • Rich says:

      If you have a UPromise credit card, and you search for the product you want to buy on their site, you can get up to 10% cash back (5% for purchasing online, 1% for putting it on the card, and 4% bonus for using your credit card to shop through an online partner). I’m not in school any more, but last time I was there 10% > 2%.
      You don’t have to track which stores give which percentages. Almost all give 5% now, but it’s really easy to just look on their website to see what the % is. Best Buy, Target, Wal-mart, all 5%. With the credit card, all are 10%. Your AMEX card can’t match that. I agree with you, if you’re making an in-person purchase and have a card that pays more tha 1%, you should use that instead. But if you’re purchasing online, UPromise usually has it beat.

  25. noname says:

    In my opinion…you’re better off using other ‘rewards’ sites like Ebates.com. Then, when you get a check for that quarter’s cash back total, sock it away in a savings account or 529, etc. You’ll accrue cash back a lot faster (depending on how much you shop online) and Ebates shows all of your tracking tickets of sites you visited and what day/time. This allows customers to easily go back to ensure they received their cash back. Its much more user friendly.


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