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.

{ 81 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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81 Responses to “Is Upromise a Scam?”

  1. JP says:

    Not happy with Upromise. I sign up, entered my credit cards a few months back went to checked my account and now cards are not listed and I didn’t receive any benefits.

    Call the help desk and it was in India,the person had trouble understanding me. I asked to talked to an American and they couldn’t connect me.

    So feeling a bit ripped off right now.

    • KimBar says:

      I have been having the same trouble… as soon as my daughter turned 18, I can no longer get into our Upromise account, and neither can my daughter. We have money just sitting there, because our 529 was not listed at the time we opened the account and until she turned 18.

      We have called a several times trying to get the problem rectified, but the Customer Service (and I use that term loosely) Reps all have Indian-type accents and are not helpful at resolving the issue.

      My daughter is entering her Senior year in College, and we STILL DON’T HAVE THE MONEY WE SAVED in Upromise.

  2. Ricardo Bauer says:

    I agree with the prior comment, Upromise looses your data regularly and you have to re-enter it. I have been with the program for 10 years and have onlu garnered $279. I my opinion it is a complete waste of time.

    • Kristy says:

      You’ve done 47 times better than I have. I signed up in November 2002, and have “earned” $5.85.

    • Crystal says:

      I agree with you. I signed up in 2007 and have achieved $4.57 so far. Since transfers to the account happen automatically once you reach $10, that means I have applied ZERO to my Sallie Mae debt since 2007. Complete and total waste of time.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Amazon does not give a percentage back for a upromise account.

  4. john says:

    Hi Everyone! I signed up with upromise last year and also applied for the Upromise Credit card through Barclays. We use the card for everything. Since last year we have earned nearly $251. We cashed out twice and received a total of $200 by check. So yes this is legitimate. The upromise credit card helps. Also you can pay bills with your credit card which multiplies the rewards. We try to do most of our shopping online and only go to exxon/mobile. I have not had any problems with them losing my information.

  5. Christy says:

    Some of the other comments seem negative. I have been using the program for over 10 years and I do all of my grocery, gas, and other daily purchases with the Upromise card, then pay off at the end of the month, so no interest charges. As a result of this over a long period of time, my 2 children have a combined total of over $4000 in their 529 accounts. It is well worth it in the long run.

  6. Edward says:

    We’ve been with Upromise for six years and make a conscious effort to make purchases through Upromise partners and their sponsored credit card. We just broke through the $4000 level and the returns are invested with the Upromise 529 partner SSgA. SSgA has provided nice investment returns. Though our last child is in college, we will not touch the fund until her last year to keep it earning for us. I have no complaints.

  7. Anonymous says:

    So is the key to not having problems with Upromise is to get a Barclays credit card?

    • nml says:

      No it is not. I have upromise and the credit card all the credit card does is give you i think 2 percent a month. i love the credit card though its great rates and i love uprimse

    • KimBar says:

      Probably… that’s what I was thinking when I read John’s, nml’s, Mainer’s, and Linda’s comments about possessing the Upromise credit card. That must be the trick to happiness with Upromise’s loyalty to its customers.

  8. Anonymous says:

    You need to log in to Upromise first when making online online purchases so that they are recorded. The number of stores offering Upromise savings is expanding and I often check the store prices (watch out for shipping charges!) against what Amazon offers to see if there is any difference. If the Amazon price is less than the store price minus the Upromise savings and has free shipping, then you have another attractive option. You can use the Upromise toolbar, however, some feel uncomfortable potentially having ALL their web browsing being checked for Upromise savings if logged in. The Barclay Upromise credit card is also an additional way to save if you pay off your balances each month and don’t incur interest charges.

    Success with Upromise requires discipline (doesn’t everything?) and can result in a significant contribution to a linked 529 plan over the long term.

  9. Anonymous says:

    All told family has passed 7k I invested in 529 accounts.

  10. Anonymous says:

    So, is this a better investment for people who are trying to send their young children to college? I’m trying to find a way to put myself through grad school. So far this doesn’t seem very promising.

  11. Jessie says:

    I’ve been using UPromise since my 10 year old was 2. I’ve been diligent about logging my shopping cards. what I have found is that it is not really worth it. I have just shy of 16.00 in the account. I am more concerned with savings at the grocery store than I am buying the particular brands to save for college. If you added up how much more I would have paid for the “name brand” my return on investment buying it would not be worth how much I would be spending. Even with coupons.

    • Laura says:

      So, you have been a member for 8 years and done nothing to help yourself, and you are complaining because you aren’t making money? There are lots of ways to make money thru upromise. Grocery ecoupons are a very small part. BUT, you have to put forth a bit of effort!

  12. twee says:

    I’ve accumumlated about $850 over the past 1.5 yrs and my first kid is not due to august. If you take a 20 time view which is obviously when your kids will go to college I think you can accumulate some good savings. It clearly won’t pay for all of it but it won’t be chump change either. I think an added benefit is that it gives a further incentive to shoponline where you will save money right off the bat. You can compare prices across the merchants that are part of the program.

  13. Mainer says:

    I think Upromise is great! We use the card for everything we can – utilities, day care, summer camp, groceries, gas, car repairs, etc. I signed up when my daughter was 9 months old, but didn’t get good at using the card and shopping bonuses until she was about 3. She is now 7 and we have earned $3,000, more if you consider the gains from the 529 we have linked to the account. I also signed up for the high-interest savings account offered by Sallie Mae so I get 10% of my annual earnings matched. This has averaged $65-70 per year. We pay the balance off monthly so we don’t incur interest charges.

    It may not be a lot of money but it’s something – not bad for just shopping and paying bills.

  14. Linda says:

    I have been using upromise for 7 years. I have $2400 in my account. My husband and I both have upromise credit cards and I order a lot online, The credit card gives you %5 instead of 1% for upromise purchases. The other thing that good a bout upromise is a lot of the stores offer coupons and/or free shipping through the site. Its free money. Can’t complain about that.

  15. julie j says:

    Love Upromise! You do have to spend money to make money. So as much as you can make purchases through the website and the credit card % helps. No it won’t pay for all of your child’s schooling but it doesn’t hurt.

  16. Chris says:

    It sounds like the people who have received the most out of the Upromise program are the ones who use the Upromise credit card. My guess is that they hope you get a credit card, use it on everyday stuff and don’t pay it off every month. If one is diligent about paying off the balance every month, then it probably works well. If one isn’t… you do the math. This is how they make money.

    • Lilybee says:

      I dont have a credit card through them, but I do have my Winn Dixie, Publix and CVS cards plus my credit and debit cards added on the site and I have accumulated about $3600, which I get deposited into a High Yield savings account with Sallie Mae. I do most of my shopping online and I’ve been a member of Upromise since Sept. 06, so I dont think that you HAVE to have their credit cards to make any money. It has become a habit that before I click on “checkout” I always check Upromise to see if the store Im buying from is participating in the program.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Been a member since 2001 and they have contributed $5600 to my kids 529 accounts – If you are buy merchandise online easy to check the site if it a upromise site. Not going to send my kids to college with that but all I did was check there site before I bought anything online and have been a loyal Exxon-Mobil customer for 12 years – .15c a tank of gas adds up over time.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I have been with Upromise for 10 years and I must admit that I was not always diligent with making sure I logged into the Upromise site, so I can understand why my account did not grow much.

    However, in the last two years, I don’t book a vehicle or make an online purchase without logging into Upromise, I travel a lot and have booked over 150 rentals from National Car and still my account remains the same. Customer service claims to have investigated and gave me a host of reasons why i might not get the credit, but it all boils down to the fact that I logged into my account and completed the transactions and did not get credit…I was just trying to save for my nieces and nephews, I wont waste my time with this…with just put in regular 529 account.

    • Anonymous says:

      Same experience here. I’ve always sung praises about the program in many online sites and conversations with friends. But I’ve just been sadly disappointed.

  19. Anonymous says:

    After submitting an inquiry on a missing purchase credit from Dell I followed instructions and attempted to submit the purchase order along with my name and membership number by Fax. The repeatedly was no answer by the receiving machine. I then phoned the Help line, struggled through supplying the information concerning the order and was told that since a discount had been used there was no credit given (There was a sale on the item.). I was told that Upromise would not credit an account if a coupon or discount was used. Your site for online shopping lists discounts and coupons and I have used them previously and received credit. When I asked to speak to someone in the USA I was told “we have no one in the USA”. Totally disgusted right now and about to tell my tale all over the Internet.

  20. Steve says:

    You also need to contribute money into the account if you want it to grow to anything meaningful. I have accumulated about $2,000 over about 10 years, but started consistently putting money into it monthly in 2009. It is almost $34,000 today. With college costs through the roof, I am confident in 13 years when my kid goes to college she will have a large amount funded, if not all. It is a good program.. 20% return so far this year and about 10% annual over the past 3.

  21. Cary says:

    I used to love upromise and to some degree still do, but their customer service leaves much to be desired. I have one vendor who I started to frequent regularly, but though the amount show up at ‘pending’ on upromise, after almost 5 months not a single payment into the account has occurred. Upromise is ‘investigating’ and ‘working with’ the vendor to ‘resolve the issue’. They have been for well over a month now…not a single payment from that vendor.

  22. Attorney Bob G. says:

    My wife and I have used U-Promise for years. We use the card every time we go to the grocery store. In fact, we would usually shop at Publix because they take the U-Promise card, instead of Kroger which is cheaper. We thought we were surely adding up lots of credits with U-Promise. Now that our daughter has graduated high school we contacted U-Promise. They say our account has a balance of ZERO dollars. They say you no longer earn credits by using their stupid little card. U-PROMISE IS A COMPLETE SCAM AND I AM ASHAMED OF PUBLIX FOR BEING INVOLVED IN THIS.

  23. Charles says:

    I have over $7,000 I’m taking out today. Horrible customer service, and not worth all the problems with account access, contributions, etc. I’ll pay the 10% penalty and finally be happy not having uPromise problems. Also, big mistake for them to drop Vanguard for ING as investment vehicle (Nevada Plan) as clients are worse off but some one got a payoff in the state to make this move. I use to add money every month in addition to credit card rebate. That’s not happening anymore. This sucker has learned his lesson, and I’m outta here

  24. Barbara Dorsey says:

    Ordered my first $500 check from upromise. All I did was register my cards and do what I normally do. Hard to complain about that.

  25. JC says:

    After reading your comments concerning customer service, and disappearing account information, I guess I will pass on this Upromise thing.

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