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Upgrade Cash Rewards Card Review

Dayana Yochim

Written by Dayana Yochim
Edited by Carolyn Kimball
Fact-checked by Andrea Coombes

April 04, 2024

Why trust us? has no financial relationship with any of the credit card providers whose products we analyze and review. Our opinions are based solely on data and our own extensive independent research — that means unbiased guidance for consumers. Rewards cards in our cashback credit card calculator are listed in descending order according to how much money they pay out annually based on the inputs.

Calling this a “cash back credit card” is a loose interpretation of the genre. The Upgrade Cash Rewards card is basically a no-grace-period personal loan packaged in plastic, offering rewards that can only be used for one thing — paying down your balance.

Two key things are missing from the Upgrade Cash Rewards Card: An interest-free grace period on purchases and the option to use the 1.5% you earn on all purchases for anything other than a statement credit. (FYI: The Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Card has a similar setup and pays 3% on select bonus categories.)

What it does offer is a predictable (not variable) interest rate and set pay-off date on purchases. Aaaand, that's about it, which is why it's not a great choice if you're looking for the traditional perks of a cash back credit card.

The Upgrade Cash Rewards card is a hybrid credit card/fixed-rate installment loan with a rewards hook (1.5% credited to your account as you pay down your balance). Instead of allowing you to carry a revolving balance on your card in perpetuity and requiring just a nominal minimum monthly payment, Upgrade turns what you owe into an installment loan. With that, you pay a set monthly payment at a fixed interest rate that gets you to a $0 balance at the end of a 24-, 36- or 60-month term.

Consider this card instead: If you're looking for a card that incentivizes paying off your balance, you'll earn more with the Citi Double Cash Card — 1% back when you buy and another 1% back when you pay off your balance. It also offers a 0% intro APR on balance transfers and an easier-to-earn welcome bonus than the Upgrade Cash Rewards Card.

The basics: Use the Upgrade Card at retail locations and online and earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases when you pay them back. Funds from your line of credit are also available to be sent to your bank account. Welcome offer: Get a $200 bonus when you also open a Rewards Checking account and make three qualifying debit card transactions within 60 days.

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Upgrade Cash Rewards

Upgrade Cash Rewards Logo
Cashback Per Year
Annual Fee
Welcome Bonus
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On Upgrade’s site
Rates & Fees

Want to compare more cards? Use our full calculator.

Upgrade Cash Rewards pros and cons

thumb_up_off_alt Pros

  • 1.5% rewards rate on purchases as they’re paid off
  • No security deposit required
  • Predictable monthly payments and fixed payoff date
  • Balances subject to fixed-rate APR
  • Offers prequalification
  • No late fees

thumb_down_off_alt Cons

  • Rewards can only be applied as a statement credit
  • No grace period on purchases or transfers
  • Welcome bonus requires opening a checking account
  • Loans ineligible for cashback rewards
  • Charges 3% foreign transaction fee
  • No extra benefits
  • No authorized users allowed

Upgrade Cash Rewards cashback rewards spending categories

The following table shows the cashback rewards rate per $1 spent in the six most common spending categories. The “Bonus Rate” refers to the amount you can earn in excess of the card’s standard rewards rate.

Some cashback cards limit the spending amount eligible for the bonus rate (aka the “Spend Cap”). Once you hit that cap (e.g., $1,500 spending in a particular category during a defined time period), the rewards rate on future purchases in that category reverts to the lower “Default Rate.”

Category Default Rate Bonus Rate Bonus Spend Cap Bonus Spend Period (Months)
Gas 1.50% - - -
Travel 1.50% - - -
Dining 1.50% - - -
Entertainment 1.50% - - -
Pharmacy 1.50% - - -
Groceries 1.50% - - -
Other Purchases 1.50% - - -

Note: The cashback rate illustrated above applies only when you funnel your earnings back onto the card to reduce your outstanding balance.

What we like

Rewards cardholders for paying down balances. Like the Citi Double Cash Card, the Upgrade Card rewards you for paying down your balance. Whereas the Citi card gives you 1% cashback when you make a purchase and 1% when you pay off your balance — and lets you choose what to do with the rewards money — the Upgrade Card automatically applies the entirety of the 1.5% rewards cash you earn each month to your outstanding balance.

Offers a fixed APR on balances, which may be way awesomer than the variable rates most credit cards charge... or not. It all depends on the rate you're approved for.

Nabbing the lowest rates requires setting up autopay. Worth it! And not just to qualify for a lower APR, but also to build up a good record of on-time payments.

If you absolutely need cash, the Upgrade Card allows you to take a loan from your line of credit. Unlike most credit cards, there are no onerous cash advance fees. Note: Loans are subject to a fixed interest rate (which could be different than your credit card APR) and required to be paid back in installments.

The Upgrade Card charges none of the notorious fees which credit-building cards like this are known for (e.g., application fees, late-payment fees, fill-in-the-blank-with-random-fee fees). Plus there are no prepayment penalties, which is great for those who want to save money in interest by vaporizing the looming shadow of debt before it’s due.

There’s a $200 cash bonus on the table if you open a Rewards Checking account with Upgrade and make three debit card transactions within 60 days. FYI: The Rewards Checking account pays out a higher 2% cashback rate on common everyday expenses up to $500 in spending each calendar year, and an unlimited 1% on everything else. 🤔

Credit limits range from $500 to $25,000. You request your terms when submitting your application and Upgrade determines how much it’ll loan you based on your credit profile.

Applying for preapproval (aka “prequalification”) lets you see the terms Upgrade will grant to you — credit line size, interest rate, repayment terms — without dinging your credit.

What we don't like

There is no interest-fee grace period. Unlike traditional credit cards, interest on purchases starts accruing immediately.

Your Upgrade Card account is credited with cash back only after you pay off your purchases. That's unlike other rewards cards that pay out cash back after you buy stuff. Consider that an incentive to do so ASAP.

The Upgrade Card offers just one rewards redemption option: A statement credit. The money you earn on purchases that you pay off is automatically applied to (debited from) from your balance. This could be limiting if you prefer to decide how to spend your cash.

FYI: Rewards cash applied to your balance does not reduce your regular monthly required payment. In case you were wondering.

Look elsewhere for a better balance-transfer deal. The Upgrade Card doesn't offer a traditional balance-transfer option. Instead, you must take out an installment loan by tapping into your line of credit and making an electronic transfer into your bank account. The loan is subject to a fixed APR and equal monthly payments, and interest begins accruing immediately.

🚨Important FYI: Upgrade Card personal loans are not eligible for cash back rewards. Only purchases are eligible for the 1.5% cashback rewards rate.

You could be facing a cringey APR — nearly 30% — if Upgrade deems you a higher credit risk. You’ll find out what you’re in for when submitting an application for preapproval. That said …

Loan terms — specifically the loan length and interest rate you’re charged — can change for each “draw” (a purchase or transfer into your bank account), which makes using the card for ongoing transactions feel like spinning an APR roulette wheel.

Balance transfers aren’t allowed. However, you’re allowed to transfer cash from your Upgrade account into your bank account, which you can then use to pay off a higher-rate card. Just make sure the Upgrade APR you’re approved for is indeed lower, and that you can handle the new loan payments.

Need instant cash? Sorry, not an option. The Upgrade Card doesn’t work at ATMs. It also doesn’t allow you to get out cash when making purchases, like you would with, say, a debit card at the grocery store. Your cash emergency will have to wait until you can transfer money from your Upgrade account to your bank account.

Requires “average to excellent credit” for approval. If you skew toward the “excellent” end of the range and have debt, I recommend shopping for a credit card offering a 0% balance-transfer deal for new cardholders.

Minimum monthly payment for each billing cycle is $5, even if you owe less. Think of it like asking Upgrade to hold your wallet until you need some dollars for future purchases.

Authorized users are not allowed. The Upgrade Card is all about building up your own credit reputation.

The bottom line

Is the Upgrade Cash Rewards the best rewards card for your wallet? The answer depends entirely on your spending patterns. Let the numbers speak for themselves: Use the Cashback Credit Card Calculator to see which credit card pays back the highest rewards based on how much you spend each month.

Upgrade Cash Rewards fine print

Here’s the Upgrade cash back rewards program rules and Visa card’s terms of use. The Upgrade Card loan terms (APR, monthly payment requirements) are determined when you apply and can change for future transactions.

Does the Upgrade Cash Rewards charge an annual fee?

No, there is no annual fee for the Upgrade Cash Rewards.

tips_and_updates Trivia time!

How common are annual fees? Roughly 17% of the consumer cash back cards we review charge an annual fee. They range from $39 to $99, with an average annual fee of $67.

Does the Upgrade Cash Rewards offer a welcome bonus?

Yes, the Upgrade Cash Rewards has a welcome bonus of $200.

tips_and_updates Fun fact

More than half (55%) of the consumer cash back credit cards we track in the database offer a welcome bonus, ranging from $30 up to $300. The average sign-up bonus for new cardholders is $197, with the median being $200.

How much cash back can I earn with the Upgrade Cash Rewards?

The average American that spends $1000 per month will earn $180.00 in cash back per year using the Upgrade Cash Rewards. For comparison, the average annual rewards payout from the cashback credit cards in the database is $191.26, and $180 is the median.

These calculations are based on average consumer spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the reward payout rates from the providers we track. Of course, you’re so much more than an average data point (aka “consumer unit,” in BLS parlance). The amount you can earn in cashback rewards using the Upgrade Cash Rewards depends entirely on your unique spending habits.

Find out exactly how much you’ll rake in with the Upgrade Cash Rewards by tailoring the spending inputs in the calculator above.

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The results of the Credit Card Rewards Calculator are based on the monthly spending amounts you enter and the annual dollar value of the rewards each credit card program pays per $1 spent. Credit card companies often express this payout amount as a percentage (e.g., 1.5% of every dollar spent) or on a points basis (e.g. ,1.5 points for every dollar spent). We converted all of them to a dollar amount (“Cash Back Per Year”) to make comparing offers easier.

To calculate the amount of cash back you could earn per year, we factored in:

  • Spend category inputs: The default dollar values for each “Spend Category” in the Best Cashback Credit Cards tool — gas, groceries, travel, restaurant, entertainment, pharmacy, other — are based on average American spending data from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also include additional spend categories (such as streaming services, online shopping, utilities, transit, Amazon and more) to help you see which rewards cards are most closely aligned with your actual spending patterns. We encourage you to customize the monthly spend inputs for the most accurate results.
  • Tiered rewards rates: If a rewards credit card pays higher cashback rates on certain spending categories (also called “Bonus Rewards”), that difference is reflected in the total “Cash Back Per Year” tally.
  • Rewards spending caps: Some cards impose category- or time-based limits (monthly, quarterly, annually) that affect the amount of rewards you can earn. For example, a card may pay 3% cash back on groceries on up to $1,000 of spending each quarter, then revert to the base/default rewards rate until the following quarter. We accounted for bonus spending caps and timeframe in the calculations.
  • Default rewards rates: Purchases that exceed a spending cap are usually subject to a lower default rewards rate (e.g., 1% or 1.5%). We mathed that out too.
  • Annual fees: If a rewards card charges an annual fee, we deducted that amount from the “Cash Back Per Year” total to provide a true accounting of a card’s annual rewards payout.

What’s not included in the “Cash Back Per Year” total is the cash value of any sign-up/introductory bonus. We highlight any Welcome Bonus separately. While sign-up bonuses can be the most lucrative part of getting a new cashback rewards credit card, not everyone will want or be able to do what it takes to earn the extra cash. (It usually requires spending a certain amount in a specified time period after the card is activated.)

About the Editorial Team

Dayana Yochim
Dayana Yochim

Dayana Yochim has been writing (articles, books, podcasts, stirring speeches) about personal finance and investing for more than two decades, focusing on bringing clarity and the occasional comedic aside to what is often a murky, humorless topic. She’s written for NerdWallet, The Motley Fool,, Woman’s Day, Forbes, Newsweek and others, and been a guest expert on "Today," "Good Morning America," CNN, NPR and wherever they’ll hand her a mic.

Carolyn Kimball
Carolyn Kimball

Carolyn Kimball is Managing Editor for Reink Media Group and the lead editor for content on Carolyn has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at major media outlets including NerdWallet, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News. She specializes in coverage of personal financial products and services, wielding her editing skills to clarify complex (some might say befuddling) topics to help consumers make informed decisions about their money.

Andrea Coombes
Andrea Coombes

Andrea Coombes has 20+ years of experience helping people reach their financial goals. Her personal finance articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, MarketWatch, Forbes, and other publications, and she's shared her expertise on CBS, NPR, "Marketplace," and more. She's been a financial coach and certified consumer credit counselor, and is working on becoming a Certified Financial Planner. She knows that owning pets isn't necessarily the best financial decision; her dog and two cats would argue this point.