With the cost of a college education steadily rising, many families worry about how they will ever pay for one or more children to attend. Student loans place a worrisome burden on recent graduates, and grants and scholarships are not always a reliable way to fund a costly degree. A cash-back program called Upromise aims to make saving easier by allowing families to put a portion of the money they spend on purchases toward college.

What is Upromise?

Upromise is a Sallie Mae company (yes, the student loan people). Essentially, once you sign up, a percentage of the money you spend at participating companies is invested in a high-yield savings account or a tax-deferred 529 plan. The money can also be used to pay down the balance of an existing student loan, or paid out in the form of a check. Upromise benefits by developing relationships with their many partners, and their customers receive college savings with no strings attached.

How do I sign up?

Simply visit Upromise and enter your information into the form. You will be asked basic information such as address and telephone number, and you will be prompted to create a login name and password.

How does it work?

Using Upromise is easy! Once you sign up, you will be directed to a list of partners. With over 900 total places to earn, chances are your favorite stores are included! You must click through to these stores from UPromise’s website for your purchases to be eligible. A percentage of your total is then rewarded back to you. The next time your child needs clothes or shoes and you shop at Target or Old Navy through Upromise, you could be earning 7 percent back toward his college and getting his new kicks at a great price!

In addition to shopping at online retailers through Upromise, eligible purchases can also be made at restaurants (including many local, non-chain restaurants), grocery and drugstores like Albertsons and CVS, and even gas stations like Mobil, using either a Upromise branded credit card or a debit or credit card linked to your Upromise account. Cards can be linked right through your account on Upromise.com. Then, look for the Upromise logo at checkout or visit Upromise.com for a list of local business that deliver rewards. Renting a car through Budget or taking your family out to eat at your favorite greasy spoon never helped you earn money for college before!

Upromise also offers eCoupons that allow you to earn rewards for buying featured products. Just find a partner store in your area and load the eCoupons onto your store loyalty card. When you swipe your card at checkout, you’ll automatically get cash back at Upromise for your purchases! Some recent offers included $1 cash back with the purchase of Charmin toilet paper, $2 cash back with the purchase of L’Oreal Hair Color, and $5 cash back with the purchase of three issues of People magazine by August 19th.

Once an eligible purchase is made, the money you earn will be deposited into your Upromise account, usually within 10-14 business days.

How much can I earn?

There is no limit to the amount of rewards you can earn! You can invite friends and relatives to contribute simply by sending them an invitation through Upromise.com. UPromise claims that those members whose families also contribute tend to earn about three times more than those whose families do not.

Of the over 900 partner sites working with UPromise, 800 of those qualify for 5 percent or more cash back on each purchase. You can log on to Upromise to see your contributions and the balance in your account.

How do I use my rewards?

There are several options available for using the rewards from Upromise. The first is to have them transferred to a high-yield savings account (just keep in mind this account must be opened with Sallie Mae). You can instead choose to transfer rewards to an existing tax-deferred college savings 529 plan, or transfer them quarterly to an existing Sallie Mae student loan. Lastly, if an account with Sallie Mae isn't how you'd like to proceed, you can request that Upromise simply send you a check for the amount of any reward totaling $10 or more.

For families with more than one child to save for, additional accounts can be linked to Upromise. You must simply determine what percentage of your earnings will go to each account.

Upromise offers an easy and viable alternative to traditional savings accounts or stashing your cash under the mattress. Especially for those of us who shop online regularly, it really couldn't be any easier!

This is a guest post by Blythe from Meridian, ID
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Save for College While You Shop with Upromise