Show Me the Money Part 8:  UPromise Rebate Program

by: Daniel Silver, Eastern staff writer

 

 

As budgetary cutbacks combine with rising college costs, families saving and planning for college can use all the support they can get. Upromise, a free consumer program that lets members ring up savings for college expenses simply by doing their daily shopping, offers an inventive and accessible helping hand. Pronounced “you promise”, this online service marries consumers’ everyday purchases with participating business sponsors to produce individual money accounts that consumers can tap to pay back education loans or to build college savings.

Essentially, the program works like a rebate, except the buyer doesn’t need to worry about receipts, rebate slips and the UPC codes. Upromise takes care of all the record-keeping. To open an Upromise account all you need to do is sign up online at http://www.upromise.com . Every time a participant makes a qualified purchase with a registered credit card, Upromise rebates a percentage of up to 5-percent into the owner’s account.

 You just go out there and live your life, do your grocery shopping, fill the car with gas, go to a pharmacy, dine out at a restaurant, or patronize any one of a number of specialty and department stores, and every time you buy something you’re putting money away for those college expenses.

Many consumers like to register their customer and loyalty cards from grocery and drug stores (Martin’s Bonus card, Food Lion’s MVP card, or CVS’s Extra Care card). Anytime the store registers a purchase of a participating product, the owner’s account receives an automatic rebate deposit of up to 5-percent. There’s a wide range of products that contribute to your Upromise account including coffee, soda, baby food and health products, canned and frozen goods, breakfast and dairy foods, health and beauty products, snack foods, household and stationery items. These are goods you buy every day. When you sign up with Upromise, you’re rebating all those purchases into a college fund.

More than 100 national companies, 200 online providers, 18,000 supermarkets and drug stores, 15,000 gas stations, 9,000 restaurants, 7,000 hotels and tens of thousands of retail stores nationwide participate in the automatic rebate plan, including Exxon Mobil, Blockbusters, McDonald’s, A. T. & T., J.C. Penney, Payless Shoe Source, Sears, QVC.com, ebay.com, Walmart.com, Kmart.com, Cabelas.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Avis, Travelocity and Radisson among many others. (Upromise makes a complete list of participants and their rebate terms available on its website.) Upromise’s new partnership with America On Line lets AOL members earn double rebates on every qualified product or service purchase from participating companies or merchants.

Anyone with a child can set up an Upromise account. For young or middle-school children, parents can open an affiliated 529 college savings plan. The Upromise money accumulates in the account tax-free until the child is ready for college.

If a student in your family has already taken out education loans administered by American Education Services the Upromise account owner can direct the funds to pay back the loan.

Those now attending college, or who plan to attend college, or who have already completed college can also set up Upromise accounts for current or future education needs. (Relatives and friends can link their purchases to your account, too, and the more people whose purchases—both large and small—contribute to an account, the faster it grows.) Account owners who do not wish to direct their Upromise credits to a 529 plan or to a college loan payback “can withdraw accumulated funds from the account by sending us a written request, and we’ll send out a check,” according to a representative at Upromise Investments, the program manager for two affiliated 529 plans.

“Upromise is a wonderful program, because you actually get much more for the dollars you spend,” pointed out Elaine Chiles, director of AES. “Some of your dollars go for the product you’re actually buying, while” at the same time an automatic Upromise rebate “applies dollars to your student loan account or to a 529 plan.”

For March 2004, Chiles reported an average rebate of $85.81 per AES loan account. Five AES borrower accounts had received at least $1,000 in Upromise deposits, and one account had collected a total of $2,863.12 from Upromise. “They must have every relative in the country linked on to it,” Chiles said. Upromise applied a total of $207,507.67 to AES accounts in March alone, she noted, an amount that does not even consider the additional thousands deposited in participants’ 529 plans.

BabyMint, Inc. offers a similar automatic shopping rebate program ( http://www.babymint.com ). The Investor Research Center at http://www.microinvesting.net highlights BabyMint’s “ability to direct shopping rebates into any investment vehicle, including mutual funds, 529 plans, IRAs, and money market accounts,” and almost any state 529 Plan or Coverdell Educational Savings Account. BabyMint’s program also includes a scholarship plan that “matches cash rebates dollar-for-dollar with tuition credits…redeemable at about 150 colleges.” As of this writing, though, BabyMint does not work in partnership with AES, and does not yet offer a direct loan payback option.

 

Additional Resources:

 

All "College Tips" columns are available at http://www.newstribune.info

Upromise http://
www.Upromise.com (781-707-8400)

 

BabyMint, Inc.http://www.babymint.com  (888-427-1099)

 

The Investor Research Center at http://www.microinvesting.net

 

American Education Services http://www.aesSuccess.org (1-304-345-7211; or toll free: 1-800-437-3692)

 

WV Mentor http://www.wvmentor.org

And: http://www.wvmentor.org/FinAid/content/types_investment_plans.asp#SMART529

Internal Revenue Service:  see Publication 970: “Tax Benefits for Education” at http://www.irs.gov, at1-800-829-3676; by fax at 703-368-9694; or at your local tax advisor. IRS also answers tax questions by telephone at 1-800-829-1040.

 

Mineral County Technical Center at http://mctc.mine.tec.wv.us/college.htm

Eastern Community and Technical College at http://www.eastern.wvnet.edu (304-434-8000; or toll free:
1-877-982-2322)

Potomac State College of West Virginia University at http://www.potomacstatecollege.edu or (304-788-6820 or toll free:
1-800-262-7332)

 Peterson's Get A Jump! The Financial Aid Answer Book (2nd edition)

Your local banker, financial planner or investment broker

 

Your high school guidance counselor

Your college's financial aid administrator