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Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa® Review: Contender for best flat cash back rate and long-term purchase payoffs

It boasts one of the best flat rewards rates out there, but its unique structure may be a deal-breaker

 /  19 min
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At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for and how we rate our cards . The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

Snapshot

4.2

Bankrate rating
Info
Rating: 4.2 stars out of 5

Bottom line

This hybrid credit card and personal loan packs in plenty of features and could be a standout option for rewards seekers looking for an easy-to-use flat-rate card or an alternative payment tool for emergency expenses.

Best for personal loan alternative

Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa®

Apply now Lock
on Upgrade's secure site
4.2
Rating: 4.2 stars out of 5
Bankrate score
Info
Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Recommended Credit

Intro offer

Info

2.2%

Rewards rate

Info

Annual fee

Regular APR

Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa Card Overview

The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa is a unique product that combines features of both an unsecured credit card and a personal loan. The result is a hybrid credit card that earns an unlimited 2.2 percent cash back on purchases with no annual fee.

The card’s rewards rate and limited fees are standout benefits. Its up to 2.2 percent flat cash back rate beats the rates you’ll find on many of the best cash back cards on the market, and it’s rare to find a rewards card that charges no annual fee, late payment fee, or penalty APR. It’s also loaded with perks, including a sign-up bonus and cost-saving benefits like pay-per-use roadside assistance and concierge services.

Despite these and a few more impressive features, the Upgrade Elite card won’t be a good fit for everyone. Due to its limited redemption options, it lacks the flexibility found with traditional rewards credit cards and its unique lending structure requires a different level of discipline and responsible use.

  • Credit Card Cash Back

    Rewards

    • 2.2 percent cash back on purchases (after each monthly payment)

    Expert Appraisal: Exceptional
    See our expert analysis

  • Rewards

    Welcome offer

    • $200 after opening a Rewards Checking Plus account and making three debit card transactions within 60 days

    Expert Appraisal: Typical
    See our expert analysis

  • Credit Card Search
    Rates and fees
    • No annual fee
    • Up to a 3 percent foreign transaction fee (see terms)
    • No late payment fee
    • No penalty APR
    • No intro APR on purchases
    • No intro APR on balance transfers
    • Up to a 5 percent balance transfer fee (see terms)
    • 5 percent cash advance fee for loan funds requested from the credit line
    • 14.99 percent to 29.99 percent variable APR

    Expert Appraisal: Good
    See our expert analysis

  • Congrats

    Other cardholder perks

    • Each billing statement’s unpaid purchases can be paid off over a fixed APR and time period, which can keep your debt and accumulating interest in check
    • Can deposit funds from a portion of your credit limit to your bank account as a cash advance loan, which can then be paid off in installments
    • You may prequalify without a hard credit pull before applying
    • Carries typical travel and purchase protections including extended warranty coverage, pay-per-use roadside assistance and other emergency services.
    • Access to 24/7 concierge service assistance, which can help make reservations, obtain event tickets and more
    • Additional cash back offers through the Upgrade Shopping portal’s participating merchants
    • $0 liability for unauthorized purchases

    Expert Appraisal: Typical
    See our expert analysis

Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite pros and cons

Pros

  • Checkmark

    One of the highest unlimited flat cash back rates on the market

  • Checkmark

    Has a welcome offer that not only puts cash back in your pocket but could also lead to earning even more rewards long term

  • Checkmark

    Comes with numerous installment personal loan-style payment benefits not typically found with traditional credit cards, which may mean owing less interest than a typical revolving credit line may incur

Cons

  • No intro APR offer, which is unusual for a cash back card — especially since this card is designed around paying off purchases over time

  • Using the installment payment and cash advance loan features means accruing interest, which will eat through any rewards you’d earn

  • This is the first Upgrade credit card that isn’t open to people with average credit. You’ll need at least good credit to get this card

How the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite works

The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa operates a bit differently than a traditional credit card.

Most credit cards provide a revolving credit line, meaning you’ll owe compounding interest on the total balance you haven’t paid off at the end of the billing cycle. If you carry a balance month to month, credit card interest is calculated on your owed balance plus the interest you haven’t paid off.

Instead, Upgrade shifts your unpaid balance at the end of the billing cycle into an installment loan-like payment plan. This means you’ll have a fixed interest rate and payoff period instead of snowballing interest charges. Like a personal loan, you must pay off your Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite card balances in equal monthly installments of 24, 36 or 60 months. Fixed monthly payments can be a great strategy to quickly pay off debt with fewer interest charges added on to the cost.

The card still has a preset credit limit like typical credit cards pose, but the issuer determines your credit line and payment installment plans’ lengths and APR by considering factors like your credit score, credit usage history and the “loan” amount. The terms state that you’ll need to enroll in automatic payments to qualify for the card’s lowest APR, though.

Why you might want the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite

Rewards-savvy spenders who want to wield one of the highest flat cash back rates available should consider the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite card. Plus, its incredibly low rates and fees, quality welcome offer and unique loan-style payments may suit a variety of spending habits — especially if you sometimes need breathing room to handle unexpected expenses.

Rewards: One of the best flat cash back rates

The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite card earns an impressive, unlimited 2.2 percent flat cash back rate. This is one of the highest flat rates around, beating out many of the best flat-rate cash back cards on the market. Many popular cards only offer 1.5 percent cash back, and only a few earn up to 2 percent cash back.

The Upgrade Elite card’s rewards make it a solid choice as both a standalone cash back card and a supplementary card to combine with cards that earn rewards at a higher rate in specific spending categories.

However, unlike most cash back cards, the Upgrade Elite card doesn’t earn the rewards until you make a payment. What’s more, you only have two ways to receive cash back: 

  • After your monthly payment: Automatically added toward your card balance as a statement credit the following month, or within 90 days
  • After you pay off your balance in full: Added as a direct deposit to your bank account on file with Upgrade

The second option is best since any interest payments from carrying a balance would outweigh the rewards you’d earn. Either a direct deposit or statement credit is a fine cash back option, but competing cards offer much more flexible redemption choices.

Many of the best cash back credit cards give you a variety of redemption options, including direct deposits to your linked bank account, checks, gift cards or even travel. Some cards can be even more versatile, allowing you to maximize your rewards by pooling points with premium travel cards with the same issuer.

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Bankrate Insight

Your rewards are tied to on-time payments, so Upgrade may not give you the rewards you’ve earned if you miss a payment deadline. If you don’t plan to pay your balance in full each month, make sure you have a budget in place to help you keep up with the installment payments.

APR: Loan-style payments can limit rising interest rates

Upgrade’s unique loan-style payment structure can be a big help for managing debt if you might occasionally need extra time to pay off unexpected purchases. This is especially handy since interest rates have been climbing.

For example, locking in the card’s lowest APR for an installment plan may curb the interest you’d owe compared to competing cards’ high APRs on a revolving balance. Keep in mind that the Cash Rewards Elite card’s APR is still variable, so your rate may be higher on future installment plans.

However, you should avoid carrying a balance whenever possible because the interest you’ll owe more than outweighs any rewards you’d earn — which defeats the purpose of choosing the Cash Rewards Elite for its cash back rate. And, although this card advertises its payment approach as a personal loan-like alternative to risky debt from a traditional credit card, you still might want to consider a personal loan for major expenses. Yes, the Cash Rewards Elite could provide a lower APR than the current average credit card interest rate, but it may be much higher than the average personal loan rate.

This Upgrade card still has its place, though, since its marginally higher rate might be worth it to avoid the hassle of dealing with a risky payday loan or a short-term personal bank loan.

Welcome offer: A solid bonus with ongoing value

As a new Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite cardholder, you can earn a $200 bonus after you sign up for an Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus account and make three debit card transactions within 60 days.

If you’re happy with your current bank, this offer may not sound all that appealing. But if you’re considering opening a new checking account, Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus is worth a look. It isn’t like traditional checking accounts and comes with some interesting features. For example, the Upgrade checking account earns cash back on debit card purchases, including 2 percent back on everyday expenses like gas, restaurants, monthly subscriptions and utilities. Since it’s not always possible to pay certain utilities with a credit card, this is a handy feature that can earn extra rewards. Upgrade also states it will provide an up to 20 percent lower rate on Upgrade loans and cards as long as you maintain an active rewards checking account.

The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite card is one of the only flat-rate cash back cards that offers at least 2 percent cash back and also comes with a welcome bonus. Plus, its welcome offer is on par with the $200 sign-up bonus no-annual-fee cash back cards usually provide, except the spending requirement could be much lower than the typical $500 to $1,000 benchmark. Ultimately, this is a solid welcome offer if you don’t mind the extra legwork involved with maintaining a rewards checking account.

Rates and fees: Fewer potential costs than many rival cards

Like other neobank credit cards, the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite charges far fewer fees than many major rewards cards. On top of the potentially low ongoing APR, there is no annual fee, late payment fee or penalty APR to worry about. These are potential card costs that traditional credit cards usually carry, and even famously low-cost cards like the Discover it® Cash Back card charge an up to a $41 fee after the first late payment.

However, there’s an up to 3 percent foreign transaction fee and an up to 5 percent balance transfer fee. These are common rates, but you may want to consider one of the many competing cards with no foreign transaction fees if you often travel abroad. Getting an advance loan on part of your credit line will also come with APR payments and a 5 percent cash advance fee.

Overall, the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite could be easy to justify since there isn’t an annual fee to offset and it has remarkably fewer potential costs than many traditional cards pose. Although some other neobank rewards cards may waive even more rates and fees, this Upgrade card is exceptionally easier to use since other neobank cards often require juggling additional accounts or impose stiff transaction limits.

Why you might want a different cash back card

Although the flat cash back rate and installment payments can be attractive, no 0 percent intro APR offers and par-for-the-course perks (apart from a glorified cash advance) may turn applicants toward other cash rewards cards with stronger benefits and more well-rounded features.

Perks: Unremarkable benefits, aside from costly loan advances

The main benefit outside the rewards and payment structure is the option to request a personal loan from a portion of your credit line. Upgrade then directly deposits the funds into the bank account you have on file.

This essentially functions like a cash advance — even through you can’t do an ATM cash advance — since you’ll pay an up to 5 percent cash advance fee and an APR on the loan in installment payments. However, Upgrade’s cash advance loan may be slightly more cost-effective than the norm since your APR could be below the typical 29.99 percent cash advance APR and you pay the interest across installments rather than having it compound on a revolving balance. This could make it helpful if you need to pay off a different credit card with a higher interest rate or you need funds to cover an emergency expense that you can’t put on the card.

Still, it’s generally wise to avoid getting advance loans from your credit card if you can help it considering they can be quite costly and won’t earn cash back.

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Bankrate Insight

This card also grants access to additional cash back offers through the Upgrade Shopping portal. This works like other cards’ issuer shopping portals, such as Shop Through Chase, allowing you to earn a small handful of rewards every now and then on qualifying purchases with participating merchants. Some Upgrade Shopping offers even earn up to 10 percent cash back.

The other Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite benefits are typical for a cash back card with no annual fee, and probably won’t swing your decision. You can receive basic purchase and travel protections including extended warranty coverage, travel and emergency assistance as well as a pay-per-use roadside assistance program that only charges a fee when you use it. The card also comes with a concierge service that provides 24/7 access to a team of customer service representatives who can act like your personal assistants, helping you with tasks like making reservations or purchasing hard-to-find tickets to concerts and other events.

Perhaps the only other remarkable feature is Upgrade’s prequalification option that allows you to see how likely you are to be approved before applying. It’s a fast process that doesn’t use a hard credit pull, so it won’t impact your credit score. Not every credit card issuer offers this peace of mind, but tools like Bankrate’s CardMatch™ can offer similar approval odd estimations.

Intro APR: No 0% offers despite its pay-over-time focus

One of the most disappointing aspects of the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa is how it doesn’t carry 0 percent intro APRs on purchases and balance transfers, even though paying off purchases over time is a major pillar of the card’s design.

Without this breathing room, competing flat-rate cards can be a much better short-term option if you have large purchases around the corner. After all, you’ll want to avoid carrying a balance anyway, since interest payments will eat through any rewards you’d earn. For example, you wouldn’t owe any interest on a card with a 0 percent APR offer for 15 months if you paid off a $5,000 purchase within the timeframe, at about $334 per month. Meanwhile, the Upgrade card could divide that $5,000 purchase across 36 months, which is about $253 per month. You’d end up paying almost $1,576 in interest at the end of that period if Upgrade charged an 18 percent APR.

The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite may be a more cost-effective option for carrying a balance after the intro APR ends. However, other cash back cards can outpace it if you don’t normally carry a balance, since many offer at least a 0 percent intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers.

How the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite compares to other cash back cards

To see if the Upgrade Elite card is the right card for you, take a look at how it stacks up against two other flat-rate cards: the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card and the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card.

Image of Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa®
Bankrate Score
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply
Apply now Lock
on Upgrade's secure site

Annual fee

$0

Intro offer

$200
Info

Rewards rate

2.2%
Info

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Image of Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
Bankrate Score
See Rates & Fees , Terms Apply
Apply now Lock
on Wells Fargo's secure site

Annual fee

$0

Intro offer

$200 cash rewards
Info

Rewards rate

2%
Info

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 – 850)
Info
Image of Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card

Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card

Annual fee

$0

Intro offer

N/A

Rewards rate

1.5% - 2.5%
Info

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent (740 – 850)
Info

Best cards to pair with the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite

Since the Upgrade Elite has a flat cash back rate on all purchases, it pairs well with a cash back credit card with bonus categories. Depending on your spending habits, you can earn higher rewards in the areas you spend the most in and then use the Upgrade Elite on all other purchases.

Who is the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite right for?

The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite may be the right fit for your wallet if you identify with the following types of spenders.

Bankrate’s Take — Is the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa worth it?

Yes, the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite is a rewarding card if you’re hunting for top-notch, flat-rate rewards and a break from a climbing variable APR. This card offers the best of two financial options: It’s a credit card that earns cash back rewards on your purchases, and it’s a personal loan on standby, giving you the ability to quickly transfer whatever available credit you have into your bank account (at a price).

This card could be an appealing choice thanks to the stellar 2.2 percent cash back rate on purchases and the unique welcome offer, which could lead to earning more rewards. And while the card’s equal installment payment method could be a challenge if you maintain a high balance and don’t plan ahead, rewards maximizers — especially those who can pay balances in full — should find little downside to considering this hybrid credit card/personal loan offering.

Dig deeper: Is the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa worth it?

*If you have previously opened a Rewards Checking account or do not open one as part of this application process, you are not eligible for the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa® welcome bonus offer.

The information about the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

How we rated this card

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We rate credit cards using a proprietary card scoring system that ranks each card’s estimated average rewards rate, estimated annual earnings, welcome bonus value, APR, fees, perks and more against those of other cards in its primary category.

Each card feature is assigned a weighting based on how important it is to people looking for a card in a given category. These features are then scored based on how they rank relative to the features on other cards in the category. Based on these calculations, each card receives an overall rating of 1-5 stars (with 5 being the highest possible score and 1 being the lowest). 

We analyzed over 150 of the most popular rewards and cash back cards to determine where each stacked up based on their value, cost, benefits and more. Here are some of the key factors that influenced this card’s overall score and how the score influenced our review:

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Written by
Garrett Yarbrough
Writer, Credit Cards

Bankrate expert Garrett Yarbrough strives to make navigating credit cards and credit building smooth sailing for his readers. After regularly featuring his credit card, credit monitoring and identity theft analysis on NextAdvisor.com, he joined the CreditCards.com and Bankrate teams as a staff writer to develop product reviews and comprehensive credit card guides focused on cash back, credit scores and card offers.

Edited by Senior Editor, Credit Cards

* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, is accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information.