Many of my friends didn’t realize that they could receive valuable cash back for their online purchases. Just by downloading a simple addon or going to a cash back website before making a purchase can help you add a few hundred dollars to your wallet each year. I will compare my two favorite sites that I personally use when shopping online.
A few quick notes:
- You must enable cookies and tracking to use these websites. In exchange for “free” money, the cash back websites receive commission from the stores you shop at and also gather shopping data on consumers. If you are an avowed defender of privacy, these sites may not be the best for you (know they don’t ask for your social security number or anything like that, but your spending will be tracked). I use a separate browser when shopping with cash back since no ad blockers or privacy addons can be used. This makes it so the sites can properly track your buying.
- The main caveat besides some privacy invasion is that you do not receive your money right away. Rakuten sends a check every three months, and TopCashback can pay out anywhere from a few weeks to a few months (depending on the merchant). Just don’t expect instant cash back into your wallet and treat the cash back as a “bonus” when you receive it.
- Rakuten spun off its cash back site as Ebates and then changed the name to Rakuten. While confusing (to the point they had a Superbowl ad explaining how to pronounce the website’s name), Ebates will herby be called Rakuten in this post.
- Sometimes applying a coupon will invalidate your cash back. However, you won’t know until you actually make the purchase. I use coupons on most of my shopping and hope that the cash back is accepted anyway. It usually is. However, if a transaction does not appear in your account, it is usually because a coupon overrode the cash back, which is fine since you will usually save more with a coupon than you would in receiving cash back.
- Amazon usually does not participate in cash back, or if it does, it is in limited categories.
Rakuten (affiliate link) is the big player in cash back. They often times do not have the best rates but have the marketing power and funky name recognition to have people use their site and only their site as the primary cash back site. What I like about Rakuten is that they often run promotions around holidays that beat other cash back websites. So if you like online holiday shopping, you will like Rakuten a lot.
To use Rakuten, you can go to the website, search for a store and click the “shop now” button. As long as you have cookies enabled, Rakuten will forward you to the shopping site where you shop as normal. You will receive an e-mail a few hours later saying your cash back was noted.
The cash back will atuomatically be added to your account. Rakuten also has a handy Chrome extension that will automatically let you apply Rakuten when you go to a shopping website on your own. Just make sure to click the activate button.
Rakuten also has an app (iPhone and Android) where you can get cash back on other apps like Lyft or shop through the app to receive cash back. I use this for my Lyft rides all the time, even though it’s only $.25 back per ride.
As stated above, Rakuten will send you a check (they call it a Big Fat Check) four times a year, every three months. There is a cutoff time when they mail the check, so note that a few weeks before your check is sent, any cash back earned during that “grace” period will be added to the following cycle’s check.
TopCashback (affiliate link) usually (but not always) has the best cash back percentage at most online stores. They also have a few stores that Ebates does not. TopCashback is less fancy than Ebates and does not have an app, so you’ll have to go directly to the website each time you want to shop, sign in and click the “Get Cashback Now” button.
I have noticed that TopCashback is more stringent about promo codes than Rakuten, so if you are not sure about using a promo code in conjunction with cash back, use Rakuten. TopCashback will send you an e-mail notification once the cash back is added to your account.
Getting your money is a bit more cumbersome than Rakuten. After a set time determined by TopCashBack and individual merchants ranging from a few weeks to a few months, you will be able to transfer the cash to your bank account (or a gift card should you wish).
Other Websites: How to Use Cashback Monitor
Some people like other cash back services beyond the two mentioned above. I have personally had good success with Rakuten and TopCashback, and they are reliable and easy to use, which is why I recommend them. If you want to use another service or even compare all the cash back services for a particular merchant, Cashback Monitor (non affiliate link) will be your friend.
The site compares all of the websites for any merchant that offers cash back from best to worst. Note that sometimes, as in the example below, you can get more cash back with a website offering “up to” a certian amount.
As an example, with Verizon Fios, TopCashback has the best offer if you bundle data and TV–the 30% cash back rate at Shop at Home might work out better if you were not going to buy one of those packages though. Always read the terms and conditions on “up to” offers since you might not be buying something at the highest cash back offer!
You can click the Cashback Monitor link to go directly to others cash back website or go there on your own if you prefer. I stick to max two websites even if sometimes a different website offers more cash back.
On other sites, you need a minimum to cash out, you might have to wait a long time for a payout or there might be some other catch. I stick to the two sites listed above for simplicity and so my cash back is only in two places where I can easily keep track of it.
Not Just for Traditional Shopping
Keep in mind that these sites also have cash back for buying movie tickets on Fandango or signing up for a cable package, not just clothes. If you are doing a purchase for anything, it is worth checking my two favorite sites or using Cashback Monitor to see if there are any offers for your purchase.
Questions? Comments? Something I forgot? Feel free to send me a note or comment below!