I can’t believe it’s been 17 years since I was filling out the FAFSA and applying for my student loan. I was certain that by now I would be making a bajillion dollars a year as a world-famous writer and that my education would have been paid off.
Um, yeah, of course I haven’t paid it off. Life happens. Hardships led to Forbearance and Deferment, and before I knew it, I found myself looking at my student loan balance ten years later and facing a balance that was greater than the amount I initially borrowed.
I’m being smarter about it today. I make payments every month. I make sure to pay off an amount greater than the interest tacked on to my loan every month. And this year, I started doing most of my online shopping withUpromise. And Upromise has helped me slowly chip away at that student loan and clear off a path toward debt independence.
It started out just as a site in which you could save for your kids’ or your friends’ kids college expenses. You’d sign up, you’d put in your reward cards, you might save a penny a year. Whoop-dee-doo. But a few years ago, Sallie Mae acquired Upromise – and the acquisition opened up a whole lot more opportunities and easier ways to save for college OR pay down your student loans through Upromise.
Here’s how it works now:
1) Open a new account at Upromise – The Smart Way to Save for College
2) While logged in to Upromise, you shop online from an overwhelming list of online retailers, including Best Buy, Old Navy, OfficeMax, Walmart, drugstore.com, Expedia, Sally Beauty Supply… way too many to name. Next to the retailer you will see exactly what percentage of your dollars spent will go back into your Upromise account. Stores can range from 1 to 25%, but are typically around 2-4 percent.
3) About 30 to 45 days later, you get money put back into your Upromise account.
4) Use the money any way you want – receive a check, open up a 529 savings account for the kids, or have Upromise make payments directly to Sallie Mae to pay down your student loan with Upromise.
Now, here’s the mindset you need to get into to rack up the money and pay off your loan sooner:
1) Take fewer trips to the store. So you have your list for the drug store ready. Let’s say you need deodorant, cotton balls, vitamins, shampoo, toilet paper and a bottle of Zyrtec. These are all non-perishable items you can buy online from drugstore, Walgreens or Walmart. By planning a couple of days ahead, you can buy that stuff online through Upromise. So stay in your jammies and shop online. Not only have you avoided the stress of having to wade through 12 different aisles to find what you need, you’re also gonna get some money back from it.
2) Buy online; pick up in the store. Best Buy started it and most merchants have followed: Buy items through Upromise for in-store pickup. Again, you are making an easier shopping trip for yourself and you are buying stuff through Upromise.
3) If you need it and can buy it through Upromise – The Smart Way to Save for College, do it. In addition to pharmacy items, you can also buy clothing, non-perishable food, electronics, pet supplies, contact lenses, baby formula, laundry detergent, baby and bridal shower gifts, basically anything that doesn’t spoil or melt can be purchased online. There will probably be a time when cold-shipping is more common and you can buy your cheese and deli meat online too, but we aren’t quite there yet.
4) Take advantage of free shipping offers. Many sites have a minimum purchase requirement to qualify for free shipping. It really doesn’t take that much to come up with $25 or $50 worth of stuff to chop off those shipping costs. Walmart.com is currently offering free shipping for all its pharmacy products and has a line of “Home Free” shipping products that come to you for free if you spend $45, so I’ve been going there to buy low-carb bars and snacks. I also use Drugstore.com to buy groceries, supplements, allergy medications. You just need a minimum purchase of $25 for free shipping, and it’s not hard to rack that up!
Upromise also has a “daily double” that is announced every day at midnight EST, in which you can get double savings from your purchase. It also prominently displays the merchants that will give you the most bang for your buck.
I’ve been using Upromise since the beginning of last year to shop for everyday items, and I’ve earned about $200 to pay down my student loan. Upromise makes payments to Sallie Mae loans on a quarterly basis if you get more than $25 in savings.
So is Upromise the way to get your loan paid every month? Not really, but it does help chip away at that loan a lot sooner. There are other ways to add to your savings. I do not recommend you get the Upromise Credit Card that promises you’ll save even more for college, since I think it defeats the whole purpose of paying down debt in the first place. But you can refer your family and friends to shop through Upromise and help you out. I haven’t had any luck with that; your mileage may vary.
If you get a statement from Sallie Mae every month and you are not signed up with Upromise, you need to get on that train and ride it now. Because I don’t know where you come from, but here, 100 bucks is nothing to shake a stick at.
You’re going to buy this stuff anyway; why not earn something from it?