[Editor’s Note: I’ve now been blogging long enough that I’m starting to have partners who began reading my stuff before coming to work with me. One didn’t realize who I was until after we were working together. The author of this guest post, David Swenson, MD, realized who I was en route to his interview here. He was reading my book on the plane and had me sign it at his interview! At any rate, we have no financial relationship, except for the fact that technically he’s my employee for another year and we’re likely to be joined at the hip financially for the next two or three decades. Prior to last week, I had no relationship with UPromise and I have never had a relationship with Sallie Mae (thank goodness.) But as you’ll read at the end of the post, I signed up for UPromise’s affiliate program just for fun. So if you sign-up for UPromise through links on this page, I get $2. Enjoy the post!]

pay off student loans quickly

How to pay your loans off faster without even thinking about it!

Ok, maybe it isn’t quite that simple, but it’s pretty close. When I told Jim about a website I’ve used for a number of years, he invited me to write a guest post about it. Before starting medical school, I was already trying to figure out ways to reduce my future debt and joined an online program called UPromise, a service run by Sallie Mae. It gives cash back for purchases that can be applied to currently active student loans or deposited into 529 accounts for those who are putting money in a college savings account for themselves, a family member, or a friend. The website is fairly easy to navigate and explore, but I’ll summarize the key benefits here.

Before we begin, please note that this is in no way an endorsement to go online and rack up tons of debt in credit card expenses because the best way out of debt is to avoid cards altogether. Rather, if you are going to be making online purchases with a debit or credit card anyway, it is nice to get a little extra cash back that would have otherwise gone unclaimed. Also, before applying for any new credit card, consider the impact credit card applications may have on your credit score if you are planning on making an additional major purchase in the near future, e.g. home, car, boat, etc. [Editor’s Note: Please don’t buy cars or boats on credit.]

Only one way to that boat

Only one way to that boat

Getting started

UPromise is an online service that provides cash back on purchases. You start by signing up online, which is straightforward and costs nothing. Next, you “register” your cards by entering in the debit/credit card numbers you want to have associated with your account. Then, you choose a beneficiary for the cash back (e.g. your own student loans, a 529 account, etc.) and that’s about it.

How to Earn Money

The primary way to earn money is to purchase items online, which will earn you anywhere from 1% to 40% (most are 5%) of your total purchase amount in rewards. It works like most online rewards sites which, if you’re not familiar with them, aren’t terribly complicated. You log on to UPromise, go the list of online merchants, and then click on the link for the merchant to get to their website. Any purchase you make after going to the merchant’s website from UPromise will then register your purchase at UPromise and you’ll earn the specified reward. Buying flowers for someone? 10% cash back from 1-800 Flowers. DIY’er with a home project in mind?  5% back at Lowes. New office furniture? 5% from Office Depot. Big into outdoors? 5% from Cabela’s or Backcountry. Traveling? Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, and many others participate.

A second way to earn money via UPromise is through their restaurant program. By eating at a restaurant and paying with any card registered on UPromise, the rewards will automatically be applied to your account. This one is so simple, you don’t even have to know the restaurant is a participating member and it would still give you 5% cash back off your entire bill, taxes and tip included! If your choice in dining is McDonald’s this won’t help you much, but enter your zip code on the website to find participating restaurants and you probably won’t be disappointed in the participating locations for your area.

How to earn even more money

To boost money saving even more, you can get a UPromise Mastercard. By purchasing items through the online merchant catalog or using the card at participating restaurants, you get the reward you would have otherwise earned PLUS an additional 5%. Now all the lumber and hardware for your DIY project will earn you 10% at Lowes. Also, by using it as an “everyday” credit card, it will give you 2% back at department stores and movie theaters, and 1% on everything else, no annual maximum limit. There is no annual fee and no rotating reward categories.

What if I already have a cash back card?

Good. Keep using it. My family has 2 cash back cards that we use for all our purchases (we pay the balance every month) and we get rewards on these cards in addition to the rewards from UPromise. The camping gear from Cabela’s earns us 5% at UPromise plus the usual 2% on our credit card that we get from any other purchase.

Summary

UPromise lets you earn money toward student loans/college savings and it’s pretty pain-free. Will an individual purchase make a huge difference toward your total loan burden? With average medical student indebtedness over $160k probably not, but if someone offered to put $50 toward my student loans, I wouldn’t turn them down.


How Upromise works.

[Editor’s Note: Okay, I’m sitting here editing this post and saying to myself, “Self, why aren’t you doing this? You have 529s. You’re leaving some free money on the table. And while you’re at it, why don’t you see if UPromise has an affiliate program for bloggers.” Well, it turns out that Upromise won’t make payments into my Utah 529. You have to use one of fifteen 529s (run by Ascensus). One of those is in my neighboring state of Nevada, well-known for its excellent 529. However, the plan that Ascensus runs isn’t the famous Nevada 529 Plan run by Vanguard.  The funds in it are mostly “SPDRs” and you can get the S&P 500 portfolio for 0.35% per year, plus $20 a year if you don’t have a Nevada address. You also get hit with a $20 fee every time you do a rollover out of the plan. Not terrible as 529s go, but not great, especially for the tiny account I would probably have there. The downsides made it so this wasn’t quite worth the hassle to me to open a new 529 and sign up with UPromise, but you may feel differently. And if you do, well, sign-up through my affiliate links on this page and I’ll get $2. I think I would probably do it if I had student loans with Sallie Mae. If enough of you sign-up, I’ll even buy Dave lunch at the hospital cafeteria!]

What do you think? Do you participate in UPromise? Would you consider signing up for it? Why or why not? Comment below!