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Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa: A Personal Loan and Credit Card All in One

This unique financial tool may offer opportunity to some, but poses an easy way to fall into debt.

Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®

9.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Apply Now with Upgrade
CNET’S PICK
Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®
Apply Now

Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®

9.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Apply Now
On Upgrade’s secure website
Intro Offer
$200 $200 bonus after opening a Rewards Checking Plus account and making 3 debit card transactions*
Annual fee
$0
APR
14.99% – 29.99% APR
Rewards rate
1.5% Earn 1.5% unlimited cash back on card purchases every time you make a payment
Rewards Rate
1.5%
Earn 1.5% unlimited cash back on card purchases every time you make a payment

The Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa® is a combination credit card and personal loan. You make purchases with the card just like you would any Visa credit card, but at the end of the month, your balance is converted into a personal loan with a set interest rate and monthly payment. Upgrade typically offers 24-, 36- or 60-month installment plans, and your options could vary depending on your credit situation.

For those who plan on making a large, time-bound purchase (i.e. you can’t save up the money in advance), the Upgrade card provides a structured repayment plan with a set APR. This can help avoid interest rates that increase over time. It can also help mitigate inconsistency for those who have trouble sticking to their own monthly payment schedules.

It’s marketed as a rewards credit card that earns “1.5% cash back,” but as we’ll explain, that’s not exactly accurate in most cases. The more accurate description is that it’s a personal loan that works a little bit like a credit card.

How it works

The Upgrade card works like any typical Visa credit card when making purchases. But at the end of the month, Upgrade will combine all the charges into one plan with a fixed monthly payment amount and a fixed interest rate. This payment plan -- and your credit score -- will help you determine how much overall interest you’ll pay.

Each time you make a monthly payment toward your Upgrade balance, 1.5% of that payment will be applied as a “bonus” toward the next month’s balance. So if you pay $100, a bonus $1.50 will be taken off your principal the following month. 

This is why we don’t really consider it a “rewards credit card” -- most of the time, you’ll simply be getting a small discount on the interest Upgrade is charging you. With a typical rewards credit card, the goal is to pay off your balance in full each month so that your rewards aren’t just working against interest charges. You can pay off your full balance with the Upgrade card, too, but it’s unclear how the rewards would be credited in that case, and Upgrade did not immediately respond to our inquiries.

You can also use the Upgrade card for a cash advance, transferring funds directly to the bank account of your choice. The same process results from a cash advance as purchases, and you don’t need to worry about a cash advance fee, like you would with a credit card.

Why it’s not a personal loan

Though the Upgrade Cash Rewards card is similar to a personal loan, there are a few key differences. 

The first difference is that instead of taking out a set amount of money, like $5,000, the loan amount is determined by your credit limit and spending. Credit limits typically range between $500 and $25,000** depending on a number of financial factors, like your income, credit history and credit score, existing debt, and more. You can use as little or as much of your credit limit as you want, albeit not without potential repercussions to your credit score.

The second main way it differs from a traditional personal loan is that it simplifies the overall process slightly. It’s set up more like a line of credit against an asset, like a HELOC, so that you don’t need to constantly reapply when you need a loan. You also aren’t forced to borrow money you may not need.

Finally, Upgrade doesn’t charge any prepayment fees, so you can always pay off your entire balance if you’d like or are able to. However, most of our top picks for personal loans don’t charge prepayment penalties, either.

Other options to consider

If you find the combination of a credit card and personal loan problematic, you can opt for a financial product that’s clearly defined. Here are some top credit card and personal loan recommendations.

Wells Fargo Reflect® Card

If you’re planning to make a big purchase or purchases that you won’t be able to pay for immediately, a 0% intro APR credit card could be a good option. These cards can help avoid interest charges by giving cardholders a limited timeframe of 0% intro APR, sometimes up to 21 months. The Wells Fargo Reflect offers 21 months from account opening of 0% introductory APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (then 18.24%, 24.74%, or 29.99% variable APR). You must make your balance transfer within 120 days from account opening to qualify for the introductory rate. There is a balance transfer fee of 5%, with a $5 minimum. 

For more details, see our Wells Fargo Reflect Card review.

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

If you were intrigued by the Upgrade’s 1.5% cash-back offer, the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card offers 2% cash rewards on your purchases. There’s also an introductory APR period so you can take advantage of inexpensive financing for a short while.

For more details, see our Wells Fargo Active Cash review.

LightStream Personal Loans

Personal loans tend to offer lower interest rates than credit cards -- even the Upgrade cards -- and are specifically geared for large purchases like home improvement, debt consolidation, or other needs. LightStream in particular offers an APR range of 5.99% to 21.49% for its personal loans, but that may vary depending on loan type. It also features repayment terms of 2 to 12 years and funding ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.

CNET’S PICK
Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®
Apply Now

Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®

9.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
$200 $200 bonus after opening a Rewards Checking Plus account and making 3 debit card transactions*
Annual fee
$0
APR
14.99% – 29.99% APR
Intro Purchase APR
N/A
Rewards rate
1.5% Earn 1.5% unlimited cash back on card purchases every time you make a payment
Apply Now
On Upgrade’s secure website
Wells Fargo Reflect® Card
Apply Now

Wells Fargo Reflect® Card

8.75/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
No current offer
Annual fee
$0
APR
18.24%, 24.74%, or 29.99% Variable APR
Intro Purchase APR
0% intro APR for 21 months from account opening. Select “Apply Now” to take advantage of this specific offer and learn more about product features, terms and conditions.
Rewards rate
N/A This card doesn’t offer cash back, miles, or points
Apply Now
On Wells Fargo’s secure website
Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Apply Now

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

9.5/10 CNET Rating CNET rates credit cards by comparing their offers to those of their categorical competitors. Each card is individually evaluated through a formula which reflects the standards and expectations of the contemporary market. Credit card issuers have no say or influence in our ratings. How we rate credit cards
Intro Offer
$200 cash rewards Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months. Select “Apply Now” to take advantage of this specific offer and learn more about product features, terms and conditions.
Annual fee
$0
APR
20.24%, 25.24%, or 29.99% Variable APR
Intro Purchase APR
0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening
Rewards rate
2% Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases
Apply Now
On Wells Fargo’s secure website

FAQs

Yes, you can pay it in full at any time with no extra fees or prepayment penalties.

It’s unclear exactly what will happen, but from other information we found on Upgrade’s site, you should at least expect them to report your late payments to the credit bureaus, and the total interest you’ll pay over the repayment period will be slightly higher since you’re maintaining a balance for a longer period of time.

No. Our understanding is that at the end of the new month, Upgrade would issue a new loan, with its own separate repayment plan.

*To qualify for the welcome bonus, you must open and fund a new Rewards Checking Plus account through Upgrade and make 3 qualifying debit card transactions from your Rewards Checking Plus account within 60 days of the date the Rewards Checking Plus account is opened. If you have previously opened a checking account through Upgrade or do not open a Rewards Checking Plus account as part of this application process, you are not eligible for this welcome bonus offer. Your Upgrade Card and Rewards Checking Plus account must be open and in good standing to receive a bonus. To qualify, debit card transactions must have settled and exclude ATM transactions. Please refer to the applicable Upgrade VISA® Debit Card Agreement and Disclosures for more information. Welcome bonus offers cannot be combined, substituted, or applied retroactively. The bonus will be applied to your Rewards Checking Plus account as a one-time payout credit within 60 days after meeting the conditions.


**Credit Lines opened through Upgrade feature Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) of 14.99% – 29.99% and line amounts ranging $500 – $25,000. Optional ACH transfers to your bank account, balance transfers, and foreign transactions are subject to fees that, if incurred, will increase your finance charge and APR. The lowest rates require Autopay and the majority of the line amounts will be $15,000 or under. For example, a $5,000 transaction with a 36 month term and a 19.99% APR has a required monthly payment of $187.90. The APR on your transaction may be higher or lower. Your rate, line amount, and default term depend on maintaining a qualifying credit score, your credit usage history, requested amount, and other factors. The Upgrade Card is unique in that it allows you to obtain a series of closed-end loans which you may access through transactions such as card purchases up to the approved line amount. As you repay your balance, additional credit may become available to you up to the approved line amount subject to meeting our credit requirements. The Upgrade Card will not replenish as it would in an open-end credit arrangement.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Joe Van Brussel is a freelance writer for CNET Money, where he deciphers obfuscatory credit card offers and breaks them down so consumers actually know what belongs in their wallet. He also covers other aspects of personal finance, from life insurance and loans to tax software and the impact of broader economic trends on individuals. Joe believes the United States will win the World Cup in his lifetime, and wishes New York City apartments came standard with thick, noise-reducing windows.