With programs like Upromise and BabyMint, you can save money for college just by shopping at certain stores and using certain services. In essence, for every dollar you spend at a participating partner, anywhere from 1-25 cents is donated to a college account for you or your child.
If you’re wondering what’s in it for the stores, it’s the hope that you will shop with them instead of other stores that don’t participate in these programs. The contributions you receive do not increase the cost of your purchases, but are actually a reward given by the store out of their profits.
While using UPromise or BabyMint may not pay for four years at Harvard, a heavy and smart user can easily earn a couple hundred dollars per year in rewards. When you consider how that amount might grow when deposited into a Section 529 Plan or Coverdell ESA, it can end up being a significant amount of money in 10-20 years.
One of the best features of many of these programs is that you can invite other people to sign up and contribute when they shop. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even unrelated friends can all register their credit and debit cards to help you save for college.
Participating businesses include everything from McDonald’s to Abercrombie and Fitch (online) to GoDaddy.com. Many of the programs also offer their own credit card which donates an additional percentage of every purchase, as well as giving you bonuses at certain participating businesses.
Considering the fact that both UPromise and BabyMint are both completely free, there is no real reason why most parents wouldn’t sign up. Do consider carefully though before you sign up for their optional credit cards. Poor credit card management and high interest rates can quickly outweigh the benefits.