SmarterBucks vs Upromise: Which is Better for Helping Pay Student Loans?

SmarterBucks and Upromise are two programs that offer help with paying back student loans with rewards for everyday spendingFor over a decade, Upromise has been helping students and their parents save money for college and pay back student loans. More recently, SmarterBucks has stepped out onto the scene offering a similar benefit, but targeted directly at student loans instead of upcoming college expenses. If college is in the future instead of the past, then Upromise is the obvious choice. But which is better for helping to pay back existing student loans?

With Upromise, you have three main ways of earning money, from shopping online and off-line, and by using a Upromise branded credit card. They also let you earn money on somebody else’s behalf by linking to their Upromise account or naming them as the beneficiary of your account.

For SmarterBucks, you have the same online and off-line shopping, but instead of a credit card, they have their own bank account and debit card. SmarterBucks

Shopping Online


Upromise does their best to make it easy to earn college savings through shopping online. Simply visit an online retailer through one of their affiliate links and you earn anywhere from 1% to up to 50% of what you spend, although some offer a flat fee instead. In addition to their website, they have a browser toolbar. If you visit an online retailer that is partnered with Upromise, the toolbar will let you know. Simply click on the “Click to Activate Cash Back” button on the toolbar and anything you spend on that site will be counted.

Upromise has a little over 1000 online retailers from which to choose. Over half have a payout of 5% with most others falling in the 3%-7% range. Less than 100 retailers pay 10% or more.


SmarterBucks vastly overshadows Upromise in the number of partnered online retailers. The full list is over 3500, more than three times their competition. However, the highest cash back percentage they offer is 5% which the majority earning just 2%

Winner: Upromise. Even though SmarterBucks has more partnered online retailers, Upromise pays more on average. Plus the toolbar is really helpful if you aren’t constantly thinking about it.

My advice would be to try Upromise first. If a retailer you want to buy from doesn’t earn you money from Upromise, then check SmarterBucks.

Shopping Off-line


Upromise made its name with offline shopping. You simply add your grocery and convenience store loyalty cards, plus your debit and credit cards to your Upromise account and any time you purchase a participating product, you earn 1% of the purchase price in your Upromise account.

Since their early days, Upromise has expanded a lot further than just groceries. Your earn 1% on fuel purchases from Exxon/Mobile (there aren’t any in northern Colorado, but Exxon is one of the most expensive gas companies out there anyway, so I would simply save money by going to a cheaper gas station).

Another source of offline earnings is dining out. Now dining out should be done sparingly, especially when you are working to pay off debt, such as student loans. But if you are going to eat out, any pay with a linked card, you get between 2%-8% back in college savings. The chart below explains the amounts that need to be spent to reach different earnings levels.

Upromise Dining Program


SmarterBucks also lets you link debit and credit cards for in-store purchases. For SmarterBucks, these purchases are only for participating retailers, which are listed in the same Marketplace list as the online retailers.

Winner: Upromise holds the lead here. Between being able to link loyalty cards, the dining program, and the fledgling gas program, Upromise has SmarterBucks beat hands down.

Payment Cards

Upromise Credit Card

Upromise offers a MasterCard from Barclays. Purchases that earn you money normally earn you more money by using the Upromise card and all other purchases earn 1%. Basically, this is a rewards card, with the added advantage that most things the rewards can be use for are tax-deductible.

That said, it is a credit card. It seems odd to encourage taking on debt to pay off debt. Plus, there is no guarantee that you will get accepted. At the time of writing, I could not find any information on a minimum score required to be considered for this card.

SmarterBank Debit Card

Instead of offering a branded credit card, SmarterBucks has joined up with Bancorp to offer an entire branded checking account, called SmarterBank. SmarterBank is a free online checking account that includes free access to ATMs and a debit card. Any non-PIN transaction with the debit card earns .5%. Transactions over $100 earn 1%

Winner: SmarterBucks. While Upromise offers a higher rate of savings, I cannot recommend a credit card. While some people are all about gaming credit card offers to earn maximum rewards, I prefer having a credit card only for emergencies and credit building. I don’t want to make all of my purchases on a credit card and have to make sure I have enough money to pay it back to avoid interest.

At the end of the day, it is probably worthwhile to have an account with both SmarterBucks and Upromise to maximize your savings. Some offline retailers Of course, you could always use your SmarterBank debit card to pay for your Upromise shopping to get double rewards that way.

If you don’t already have an account with either or both of them, you can use these sign-up links. Doing so will help me pay back my student loans, so win-win!

Do you use SmarterBucks or Upromise? Which one do you prefer?



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13 thoughts on “SmarterBucks vs Upromise: Which is Better for Helping Pay Student Loans?

  1. I’ve heard of Upromise but not SmarterBucks. I didn’t use any type of reward program when I was a student. It’s probably a good thing or I would have been tempted to buy things I didn’t need!

    • Personally, I don’t really think about rewards when shopping, but I am trying to get better about checking before making a planned purchase.

  2. I don’t use either because I hardly buy anything and I don’t need to buy anything else. I did have a Upromise account for a brief time, but really it was practically worthless.
    Do or Debt recently posted..Sunday WorshipMy Profile

    • I don’t spend much either, and since I mostly buy store brands, I don’t get a lot of savings from grocery spending either.
      But when I buy my kindle fire next month with gift card money, it is an easy may to knock a couple bucks off my loan.

  3. I signed up for Upromise years ago, but never seemed to buy the right thing, and I think it was kind of like Adsense in that you had to have so much money in the account before it would pay out. I never got a payment, and just paid off my loans, so I guess I didn’t pay enough attention to it. I think if you are buying the product regardless, it would make sense to do both. Any bit to pay down loans with someone else’s money is a win in my book.
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  5. U promise is hands down the worst credit card I have used in my life. Repeated errors on billing with additional fees and interest.

    Started innocent enough when their web automatic payment options didn’t work. Could sign up to only pay the minimum each month but not the full amount. After calling and being assured they converted the account to be payed in full every month from my designated bank account it happened again the next month. Called again, interest/fees removed, they asked me to try again online the following week. I did, didn’t work, again called and again promised the automatic payment for full would work if done online. Following month it again didn’t work. Fees/interest cancelled again. Tried to cancel the card but told I would have to “call back later in the month” to cancel. Had to ask to be transferred to someone who could cancel the card today.

    Do not trust them! They are crooks in my opinion!

  6. also, upromise is only for paying back Salle Mae loans. Where as smarterbucks you can repay any loan.

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