The internet-based business Upromise follows the traditional shopping portal model, with an interesting twist; with every sheet of Charmin you use, you add to your college savings fund.

Upromise takes a two-pronged approach to profit. The first prong is to convince you to use its site to access online merchants with which it has a relationship. For example, if you want to buy a book from Amazon, you would first visit Upromise, and follow its link to Amazon. Amazon will then pay Upromise a little bit for bringing it the business, and Upromise will deposit a taste of that rebate into your college savings fund.

The second prong covers your storefront shopping. For grocery shopping, Upromise has agreements with major manufacturers (including Charmin) to rebate part of the sales price for purchases of selected items made by Upromise members. You pre-register your grocery store card with Upromise (most large chains are members, such as Krogers and Giant Eagle), which Upromise uses to identify qualifying purchases. The manufacturer then rebates a portion of the sale price to Upromise, and it in turn deposits a bit of that money into your college savings account.

For other eligible purchases, such as meals at restaurants within the Upromise network, you'll need to pre-register your credit or debit card with Upromise so that it can identify your purchase. Again, a bit of the spiff the vendor sends to Upromise will end up in your account.

How much money are we talking about here? Rebates on purchases from online merchants range from 1% (Wal-Mart) to 8% (Mason Shoes), with most in the 2-4% range. Grocery and drug store purchases of items (from a woefully short list) bring 1-5%. Restaurant spiffs range from 2-4%.

Some services also pay, such as H&R Block tax preparation, Century 21 realty, My Gym, and Mobil gas stations at $.01 per gallon.

The money you gather as a result of your purchase can be used to build a 529 college savings plan, pay off student loans, or you can choose to receive it in the form of a check to do with as you please.

Like most of these programs, to make it pay you'll have to be comfortable conforming your purchasing to those vendors and products that reward. Can you really expect to build a significant nest egg for college? If you already buy a lot of Charmin, this might pay off. In these troubling times, even a 1% rebate is worth considering.


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