Many years ago, I pissed away a golden opportunity. The University of Kansas, private organizations and assorted government agencies heaped money on me to go to school (hint: NMS). Who knew, brains actually can pay off. But, being young, foolish and a little lost, I dropped out, giving up all that money. Twelve years later, I did finally finish, but they don’t give out that free money the second (or third) time around. So, like lots of other grads, I’ve got a pile of student loans now. As a friend in a very similar situation recently told me, “Every time I make a student loan payment, I have a good hearty laugh…”
In January, I signed up for Upromise, Sallie Mae’s reward program. Its free and through it, a percentage of purchases made at certain stores gets applied to your Sallie Mae student loans or a college savings plan. You can also give your rewards to a relative or friend and help them out with college (great for parents and grandparents who do a lot of shopping). Everyone has a rewards program nowadays it seems: credit cards, airlines, box stores, gas stations, gaming stores, blah, blah, blah. Normally I don’t pay any attention to them. I have one debit card that returns instant cash back, good enough. Upromise, though, got me to take a look because of one line:
Earn 1% rewards on eBay purchases.
Besides selling on eBay, I buy a lot of crap there too. Almost all of the business’s office supplies and equipment are bought through eBay. Upromise actually has hundreds of participating merchants, most of whom I will never shop at (which is always the way these rewards programs seem to work, they want me to spend my money at places I would never normally shop). Upromise sold itself with eBay, Newegg (awesome!), Dillon’s, and Barnes & Noble. No Amazon though, which sucks.
They’ve got some weird partners too, like CryoCell, “who collects and preserves your newborn’s umbilical cord blood stem cells.” Not exactly the first company that comes to mind when you think of a rewards program.
Most of your shopping has to be done online to get rewards, but that’s okay, I do most of my shopping online anyway. Here we get to the annoying part though. In order to make sure your purchases qualify, you have two options. One is to go to the Upromise site before every purchase and click through Upromise to the site you want to shop on. Hassle. Or, install their toolbar, which will make sure your qualifying purchases are counted and let you know when you are on a site with rewards. Sounds easy, unfortunately they built a shoddy toolbar. Every time you are on a partner site, the bar briefly routes you through the Upromise site first (takes maybe an extra second or two, but it’s annoying as sin when you spend as much time online as I do a day). I stripped it out of Firefox after about 30 minutes. I couldn’t take it. I usually run two browsers though. Most of the time, I’m in Firefox, but I leave IE7 open for a second gmail account. I installed the toolbar in IE7 and just move over to it when I want to buy something. It’s still a slight hassle, but better than having the bar installed in FireFox.
It takes 10-45 days for most credits to be applied to your Upromise account. So far, I’ve got almost $12 in it with about $30 more pending. Sure, it’s not a ton of money, but its only been a month or so and this is stuff I’m already buying. Once I had everything set up the way I like it, it hasn’t required any extra work. I figure by the end of the year, it will amount to an extra one to two payments to my student loans. At this point, every bit helps.
Final verdict: If you spend a lot of money online on eBay or one of the other partner sites (like several thousand dollars a year), Upromise is absolutely worth the time. Otherwise, meh, don’t worry about it.
Updated: I put up a new post detailing my experience with Upromise over the last several months.