Web Savvy: One Web Freebie That Could Pay Off Big
The next time I buy a car, it may be a minivan from Chevrolet. I'm thinking of signing my wife up for America Online. And my two young sons are thrilled about our recent visits to Toys "R" Us.
Why the rampant consumerism? Those companies will give me money to help send my boys to college. And they're not alone. I now eat at the neighborhood deli, use AT&T for long distance, and buy gas at ExxonMobil stations. I may even ask Coldwell Banker to sell my condo.
All those businesses are coughing up cash toward my kids' education
because they're partners of
UPromise sprang from an altruistic idea. Founder Michael Bronner, a successful Web entrepreneur, wanted to help kids get to college. He knew that saving for college is hard on parents, so he created a way to do it without really trying.
Enter Upromise. To set up an account, you give the site personal information, such as your phone and credit card numbers, so it can track your spending and credit your account. (You can register any credit card in your wallet, or all of them; the company says it won't share your personal data or use it for marketing purposes.)
The Upromise site also serves as a starting point to reach 70 online stores that participate in the program. You can even invite family and friends to join your network so that part of their spending goes toward your children's education.
So what kind of money are we talking about? A dollar here and there, mostly--you get a rebate of between 1 and 15 percent of the cost of your purchases. You do need to be patient: I've found that money is usually credited promptly, but it takes a few weeks in some instances. And when I ordered some mail-order steaks, my rebate didn't show up until I e-mailed UPromise customer service.
Tools on UPromise's site estimate how much the service can help you save, based on your spending and your kids' ages. Assuming the service sticks around, you could easily pay for textbooks; with your friends and family chipping in, you might save tens of thousands of dollars.
Altruistic origins aside, Upromise is a business: Merchants pay it a finder's fee for steering customers their way. My account is protected by the Sercurities Investor Protection Coprororation, a safeguard in case Upromise becomes another Web casualty. And I'm betting that the company will succeed. The list of participating merchants is already impressive. So is Upromise's board of directors, which includes former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley.
In addition, you
periodically roll money out of your UPromise account and into a state-sponsored
Section 529 college-savings account. (For more on these plans' rules, benefits,
and tax implications, visit
For now, Upromise really does offer free money for college. In the five months I've been a member, I've received $250 from participating companies. And more merchants are joining in. By the time you read this, my boys will be eating McDonald's Happy Meals and pocketing more money for their future.