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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.

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.

Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®

7.5/10 CNET Rating
Card Highlights
Intro OfferN/A
APR14.99% - 29.99% APR
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Excellent/Good/Fair
Reward Rates
  • Earn 1.5% unlimited cash back on card purchases every time you make a payment
Annual Fee$0
Additional Details
Late Payment Fee No Fee
Foreign Transaction Fees No Fee
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • Earn 1.5% unlimited cash back on card purchases every time you make a payment

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 or more. The Wells Fargo Reflect offers 18 months from account opening of 0% introductory APR on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (then 17.24% to 29.24% variable APR), and if you make your minimum payment on time every month during those 18 months, you'll get an additional 3 months of 0% intro APR. 

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 -- upfront. 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.

FAQs

Can I pay off my entire Upgrade balance early?

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

What happens if I miss a payment or I pay late?

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. 

If new credit is made available, and I use my card for more purchases, is the new amount owed combined with my old loan?

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

*All information about the Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

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.