Save when you spend


Upromise promises to bolster college savings with product rebates :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Frank Pinc / Chicago Parent Upromise can be an easy way to save for college-before your child dons a cap and gown.

Keith Black's kids are only in kindergarten and first grade, but the Wauconda dad started saving for their college education two years ago. As an assistant professor of investments, he knows the importance of starting early. He looked at the options and chose Upromise.

"Upromise is attractive because it allows you to get rebates on spending that you wouldn't get anywhere else," says Black, who teaches at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

The free service, based in Needham, Mass., offers members college savings in the form of rebates from participating companies.

The process begins by registering your credit cards and grocery cards on the Web. Then, when you use the cards to buy certain products, a small percentage (usually less than 10 percent) of your purchase is deposited into your Upromise account. Participating companies include Kellogg's, McDonald's, AOL and ExxonMobile. A number of grocery and drugstores, restaurants and online shopping sites also participate.

Why do companies offer these rebates?

"Loyalty," says Upromise spokesman Michael Pirchinello. "We have over 4.5 million members and companies are always looking for ways to connect with customers."

Upromise gets a fee each time a rebate is distributed.

Despite its simple premise, Black admits getting the full benefits requires some effort.

"It's very easy to use, but some of the bigger rebates require more work," he says. For example, real estate and mortgage companies such as Century 21 and CitiMortgage have specific requirements for claiming a rebate.

The extra work pays off, though. More than half of Black's Upromise savings came from taking out a mortgage to buy a new house.

Once money starts to accumulate, Upromise encourages parents to invest their savings.

"We want people to take the money out [of the Upromise account], because there are better things that can be done with it," says Pirchinello.

Upromise offers a 529 account, which invests rebates into stocks and bonds and can be withdrawn tax-free for college. But the savings can be automatically deposited into any 529 account. Black invests his in College Illinois!, which lets parents pre-pay for college at in-state public schools at today's tuition costs. Becoming a Upromise member does not guarantee your child will have enough money to college, but it does help start the saving process. "Anything that causes parents to save is a good thing," says Black.

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Jennifer Mesich

Kids Eat Chicago

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