Updated: May 3, 2013 12:15PM
Would you take a bribe? To do the right things? Things like saving and paying down your debt?
That’s part of the interesting psychology behind SaveUp.com — a free website that lets you earn a shot at cash and other prizes, just for doing the right thing.
The concept has taken off since the site was launched Nov. 1, 2011. In less than six months, SaveUp users have deposited $25,752,249.51 into their savings and paid down $22,278,973.93 in debt.
Priya Haji, one of the company founders, likens the incentives offered by SaveUp.com to credit-card rewards points and miles, and acknowledges in that sense, the incentives are indeed a bribe designed to reward positive financial behaviors.
But, she explains, the site is based on solid behavioral research out of Harvard, which demonstrates the concept of “skewed rewards” vs. incremental savings. That is, people will act when the perceived potential gains are impressive enough.
Motivation based on the small possibility of a big reward is similar to the behavior that makes people buy lottery tickets. Haji explains that the long-term benefits of compound savings returns — something I find very attractive — is just not enough to get most people to take action to save more and pay down debt.
But when you post a $2 million monthly prize, for which you can compete by “earning” rewards credits as you pay down debt and add to savings, then people really get excited. Other potential rewards for which you can compete include cash, cars, vacations, electronics and things such as a “makeover” from Banana Republic.
Each reward has different odds of winning. For example, the odds of winning the $2 million monthly prize are 1 in 1.175 million. The odds of getting “double your tax refund” (up to $10,000) are 1 in 2 million. Some drawings are held weekly. And there are “instant” rewards for some prizes and cash.
How it works
SaveUp.com can offer these kinds of rewards while banks are prohibited from doing so. But banks and other financial institution partners, totaling more than 18,000 institutions, do help you link your accounts to SaveUp.com, using the secure technology created by Intuit, parent of Quicken.
And that’s how you get started. Just go to SaveUp.com and create your own “account” by setting up a username and password. Then you can securely link to your existing financial accounts. It takes just moments.
None of your money moves to, or through, SaveUp. But SaveUp is notified every time you pay down a credit card or your student loan and add to your savings or even to your retirement plan at work — because you’ve linked to those accounts. And each of those positive steps earns credits — which you can use to compete for prizes.
Yes, some of the big numbers above come from things people are already doing, such as making payments on student loans or contributing to an IRA. But the more you save, and the more you pay down, the more credits you earn — and the more chances at prizes.
Says Haji: “SaveUp lights up your brain once a day, making you think about money, whether you’re logging in to check your balance or use your credits to play for a prize. The goal is to get you to engage daily and become more involved in your personal finances.”
SaveUp.com is free to consumers because the brands offering prizes get advertising, and because they can offer you special deals, such as lower-rate credit cards, through the website.
It appears that those already connected are finding it almost addictive. And recognizing that possibility, SaveUp limits you to three “plays” a day.
That means people keep coming back every day, to see the credits they’ve earned and to spend some of them on a chance at a prize. The site even offers helpful videos so members can learn more — and earn credits by watching them.
Who can argue with this kind of “bribe” — if it gets people motivated to do the right things with their money. It’s a different approach, but clearly it works.
And that’s The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is the Chicago Sun-Times’ nationally syndicated financial columnist, and a registered investment adviser.