Full Review of Upromise Mastercard
Cash back bonuses for initial spending and for 529 plan-linked accounts
Introductory APR on balance transfers
Round Up feature to enhance cash back
Mediocre cash back rate
No introductory APR on purchases
- Cash Back Bonuses for Initial Spending and 529 Plan-Linked Accounts: When you apply for this card you are effectively joining Upromise, a service geared towards helping families save for college. After spending $500 in the first 90 days of opening the account you will earn a $100 bonus. Also, your Upromise account can be linked to any eligible 529 plan you've established at a bank or brokerage. Upromise Mastercard users who do so then receive an extra 15% on the cash back they’ve earned from card purchases; it's credited at the end of each billing cycle. So, for example, if your earned cash back equals $20 one month, you’ll actually receive $23.
- Introductory APR on Balance Transfers: The Upromise Mastercard features a 0% APR introductory rate for 15 billing cycles. Cardholders must transfer their balances within 45 days of account opening in order to get this rate. After the end of the introductory period, the rate rises to the regular APR on purchases: 14.99%, - 24.99% variable, based on your creditworthiness.
- Round Up Feature to Enhance Cash Back: With the Round Up feature, it's possible to increase your cash back by setting the Upromise Mastercard to round up a purchase to the nearest dollar (or more) in order to get more cash in the account. It’s possible to participate in the Round Up program with monthly spending $1 and $500. For example, a cardholder that set a Round Up to the nearest $1 might pay $3.50 for something. $4 would be billed on the card, and the extra $.50 would be converted to cash back. Round Ups can be added to a linked 529 plan, thus qualifying for the 15% bonus.
- Mediocre Cash Back Rate: This card offers a straight 1.25% cash back on all purchases. Not the worst in the world—but there are cards that also don’t “tier” rewards but still provide a better rate. The CapitalOne QuicksilverOne, for example, offers a set 1.5% cash back; the Citi Double Cash card has a program that pays 1% cash back on all purchases and another 1% when you pay your bill. Both of these cards are annual fee-free, too. Admittedly, the 15% 529-plan bonus and the Round Ups do in effect increase the cash-back return rate (to 1.44% or more depending on how much rounding-up you do). Even so, the base cash back from the Upromise Mastercard is still fairly mediocre.
- No Introductory APR on Purchases: While the card does offer 0% APR on balance transfers for a time, cardholders get no break on any other sort of transaction: Those interest charges start accruing with the first cycle. Some credit cards, like the Capital One SavorOne, offer a 0% APR introductory rate on purchases, and do it for 15 months.
This Card is Best For
Seeks to maximize cash back earnings across spending categories
Prefers uncomplicated rewards with single rate for all spending
Resists or refuses an annual fee on principle or due to cost
Primarily responsible for household grocery and other major purchases
This card is targeted to—and most likely to benefit—families who’d like a boost in enhancing that higher-educational fund for their kids. It’ll work best for those who are already making regular 529-plan contributions but want a little extra money to boost the balance—and a pretty effortless way to earn the money and have it go directly into the account.
Additionally, this card might work well for someone who doesn’t want to deal with tiered or rotating cash back categories and wants to earn the same amount on each purchase. It might also help those who are hoping to transfer high-rate balances. Incurring no interest on the transferred amount for more than a year can help reduce debt faster.
Rewards Earning Details
Earning rewards with the Upromise Mastercard is fairly straightforward. Each purchase earns 1.25% cash back. In order to earn that cash back, however, a cardholder must also have a Upromise account.
There are ways to earn additional cash back rewards, such as using the Round Up feature and linking the Upromise account to a 529 plan.
Rewards Redemption Details
Rewards are managed through Upromise. Round Ups are considered purchases, so they actually earn their own cash back and are also eligible for the 15% bonus for accounts linked with an eligible 529 plan.
With 15% cash back bonus for 529-linked accounts, the amount of cash back earned is calculated at the end of each billing cycle. The 15% bonus is then deposited to the 529 plan.
Redemption can be automatic when linked to a 529 plan, with money being invested to the plan account on a regular basis.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
The most likely way to maximize rewards with the Upromise Mastercard is to use the card as part of a college-savings strategy. By turning on Round Ups and linking a 529-plan account, it’s possible to earn extra cash back for each purchase. Plus, if the cash back earned goes into a 529 account, the money then has the potential for compounding returns because now it’s being invested as part of the account.
For example, let's say you earmark your entertainment spending for the Upromise card. The average consumer spends $3,226 on entertainment each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which would result in $40.33 in cash back. Now, let’s say you activate the Round Up feature, bringing up purchases to the nearest $1. Let’s just say you get an extra 50 cents on each of these transactions, and you make 100 of them in a year, adding another $50 for a total of $90.33 for the year. You’ve linked your card to the 529-plan account you’ve set up for your kids, you would get an extra 15% on that $13.55 in that year, bringing your total cash back to $103.88.
Now, because the money in the 529 plan is invested, it’s going to go to work, earning for you. If you get 5% annualized returns and the money stays in there for eight years, your total would be $153.48. Of course, there's no guarantee that you’ll get those returns consistently—there's no sure thing in investments, alas—but let’s assume they average out to that. If you added that amount each year for eight years, you could potentially see about $992.34. That’s almost $1,000 extra for college expenses.
Upromise Mastercard's Outstanding Benefits
- Round Up for increased cash back
- 529 Plan contributions
- Complimentary ShopRunner membership
- $0 fraud liability
- No foreign transaction fee
- Free online FICO Score access
Barclays, which issues the Upromise Mastercard, receives an average rating in the factors used by J.D. Power in its credit card issuer rankings. In overall satisfaction, Barclays receives three out of five, and receives threes across the board.
Barclays has a mobile app, but its ratings aren't particularly good. On Google Play, the app has a rating of 3.9 stars, while it rates 2.3 stars in the Apple Store.
One of the most unique features offered by the Upromise Mastercard, though, is its complimentary ShopRunner membership, which can result in free two-day shipping on eligible purchases. However, in order to take advantage of the free two-day shipping, cardmembers need to activate a ShopRunner account and sign in before paying at participating online retailers.
For the most part, security features with the Upromise Mastercard are related to the standard security seen with Mastercard protection. This includes no liability for fraudulent purchases and card replacement for lost or stolen cards.
Additionally, there is free FICO Score access online with this card, which can make it a little easier to stay on top of a credit report and spot problems that might result in a credit card drop.
Educational expenses are on just about every family’s mind these days, and the Upromise Mastercard savvily targets that niche. By linking to a popular investment vehicle, the 529 plan, the card offers an appealing way to save, enhanced with some attractive ways to increase the amount of cash back. And, since there’s no annual fee, cardholders don’t have to worry about whether their cash back amounts will justify any ongoing costs of carrying the card.
Perhaps Upromise feels its initial spending bonus and unique college-savings bonus is incentive enough, because this card doesn’t offer many other perks to attract applicants, as there is no zero-interest-rate period on purchases in the first months of membership. While the balance transfer introductory rate of 0% for 15 months for transfers made within 45 days of account opening is a nice touch, the Upromise Mastercard doesn’t waive the 3% balance transfer fee for new cardholders taking advantage of the offer (as many cards, such as the Amex EveryDay card, do).
In terms of ongoing use, the Upromise Mastercard's 1.25% cash back rate is on the mediocre side. For those looking for higher cash back potential, other credit cards might provide better opportunities. Cards like the Amex Blue Cash Everyday or the Capital One SavorOne might help maximize certain categories where there is greater spending. Additionally, for those just looking for a balance transfer deal plus straight cash back, the Citi Double Cash card might be a better choice. That card comes with an introductory 0% APR 18-month period on balance transfers made in the first 4 months of account opening as well as a straight 1% cash back on all purchases and another 1% when you pay your bill.
However, if that 529-plan bonus seems too good to pass up, it might be worth considering using the Upromise Mastercard as a supplemental card. For example, a cardholder might use the Amex Blue Cash Everyday card to earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 per year and 2% cash back on gas and use the Capital One SavorOne card to earn 3% cash back on dining out and entertainment purchases. Purchases with these cards that would normally earn 1% cash back can instead be made with the Upromise Mastercard to get a bit of a boost and go toward helping to pay for college.
Employing the Upromise Mastercard in conjunction with other cards provides a potential for higher overall cash back rewards while still working toward a goal of college savings. In fact, it’s actually the card this reviewer uses to supplement her own regular contributions to her son's 529 College Savings Plan. The Upromise Mastercard isn’t her primary credit card, but she does earmark it for online purchases. Just using it for these transactions with a designated Round Up to the nearest $1 and the 15% bonus has resulted in a few hundred extra dollars in her son’s account. This will be a great help, when combined with the power of compounding returns, to increase the value of the account by the time he goes to college.