In the past six months, I’ve earned roughly $220 shopping online.
And I’m not talking about credit card rewards. Rather, I discovered some cash-back websites that reward me for doing my regular shopping. Find out how cash-back sites work and how you can start earning more money today.
What are cash-back sites?
Cash-back sites don’t sell products or services. Instead, they act as a portal to retail websites.
“To earn cash back, you must visit a cash-back website and click through its special link to the retailer of your choice instead of going directly to the store’s site,” said Natasha-Rachel Smith, TopCashback’s resident personal finance expert.
The cash-back site records your visit and then gives you the promised reward once you complete a purchase. Check out the four best cash-back sites below and see which one works best with your online shopping habits.
Ebates partners with more than 2,000 stores to give you up to 40 percent cash back. It also offers coupons you can stack with your cash-back rewards.
What sets Ebates apart
Cash-back sites typically require that you visit online retailers through the cash-back site’s website to get your rewards. That’s not the case with the Ebates Cash Back Button.
An extension you can add to your web browser, the “button” pops up to notify you when you’re on a website where you can earn Ebates cash back.
The extension also highlights cash-back rates in your Google searches. For example, this is what you’ll see if you search “clearance sales”:
Swagbucks is the only other cash-back site that offers this feature.
Other ways to earn cash back
Shopping online isn’t the only way to earn cash back with Ebates. You’ll also earn money by referring your friends to the website. As of August 2017, you’ll earn $5 for every friend you refer who makes a qualifying purchase and an extra $40 when two of your friends join and make qualifying purchases.
The cash-back site also offers in-store cash back. Simply add your Visa or American Express credit card to your Ebates account, and you’ll earn extra cash back when you shop at participating stores.
Ebates pays out earned cash back every three months in four ways:
- A “big fat check” addressed to you
- A “big fat check” addressed to someone else or a charity
- A PayPal transfer
- A retail e-gift card (you sometimes get a bonus if you choose this option)
You must have at least $5.01 in earned cash back to get a payout. Otherwise, it’ll be included in the next one.
TopCashback has more than 4,000 retail partners, ranging from big-name brands to small and midsize retailers. It also offers coupon codes you can stack with cash-back offers.
What sets TopCashback apart
Not to be outdone by its competitors, TopCashback offers to match some other cash-back sites’ rates.
Eligible websites include:
- Mr. Rebates
Before you request a match, be sure your purchase meets the terms and conditions.
According to Smith, another thing that makes TopCashback stand out is the fact that it’s the only cash-back site in the U.S. that offers full commissions.
“That means it gives the entire commission rate it’s paid by retailers,” Smith said. “No other cash-back site in the USA does this; they give a portion back but keep a share too.”
Instead of keeping part of commissions, the cash-back site makes money from advertisements and sponsored links that don’t generate cash back.
Other ways to earn cash back
TopCashback has a page dedicated to in-store offers on its website. However, as of August 2017, there are no offers available.
Like Ebates, TopCashback offers referral bonuses when you get your friends and family to sign up for the cash-back site. You’ll earn $10 for every referral who signs up and earns at least $10 in cash back through the website.
You can redeem your TopCashback rewards in three ways:
- A direct deposit into a U.S. bank account
- A PayPal transfer
- A gift card (you’ll get a 3 percent bonus if you choose this option)
There’s no set timeline or minimum balance for payouts. Once your cash is available, you can request a payment.
With Swagbucks, you’ll earn rewards on purchases with over 1,500 retailers. Instead of straight cash back, you’ll earn Swagbucks points you can redeem for gift cards or cash back.
Like Ebates, Swagbucks offers a browser extension that highlights when you’re on a partner website. It also shows how many points you’ll earn with a partner in your Google and Bing searches.
What sets Swagbucks apart
Although other cash-back sites offer a few extra ways to earn cash back, Swagbucks takes its mission to the max. You can earn Swagbucks points if you do the following:
- Answer surveys
- Watch videos
- Sign up for offers with partners
- Get free samples
- Search the web using Swagbucks’ search engine
- Play online games
- Find special text codes on the site and social media you can submit for points
- Refer a friend (you’ll get 10 percent of their earnings for life)
- Meet daily earnings goals
You can redeem your Swagbucks points in four ways:
- A retail gift card
- A PayPal transfer
- A donation to one of Swagbucks’ charity partners
- By entering a Swagstakes to win prizes
Points are worth one cent each, so 500 points are worth $5. You can redeem your Swagbucks points anytime, assuming you have enough points for an available reward or Swagstakes. There’s no minimum balance requirement or waiting period.
Partnering with more than 850 online retailers and more than 10,000 restaurants, Upromise offers cash back on shopping and dining out.
What sets Upromise apart
Owned and operated by private student lender Sallie Mae, Upromise is geared toward helping you save for college and pay off student loans. It offers bonus cash back if you transfer your earnings into a Upromise GoalSaver account for college savings.
The Upromise dining program is also beneficial for individuals and families who eat out regularly. You’ll earn 2.5 percent cash back at qualifying restaurants. All you need to do is link your credit or debit card to your Upromise account and use it to pay the bill.
Other ways to earn cash back
In addition to earning cash back through online shopping and eating out, Upromise also partners with popular travel sites.
You also can use eCoupons to get cash back on everyday in-store purchases by linking your store loyalty card to your Upromise account.
As of August 2017, Upromise doesn’t offer a bonus when you refer your friends.
Once you’ve earned enough cash back, you can redeem your rewards by:
- Contributing to a Upromise college fund or a linked 529 plan
- Paying down student loans that are linked to your Upromise account
- Requesting a paper check
There’s no minimum balance to use your rewards to contribute to a college savings plan. If you want to pay down student loans or get a check, however, you’ll need at least $10 in your account to redeem.
Which cash-back site should you choose?
“America has an abundance of cash-back sites, but they all play by different rules,” said Smith. “Look at each one’s benefits and limitations to determine which is the best for you.”
Consider earnings and redemption options as well as restrictions, including how often you can redeem and how much.
Choosing the right cash-back site isn’t always about making the most money, either. For example:
- If you’re likely to forget to go through the cash-back site to shop, using the Ebates and Swagbucks browser extensions could be your best bet.
- If you like the idea of getting cash back for more than just shopping, Swagbucks offers the most opportunities to do so.
- If you eat out regularly, Upromise’s restaurant network is impressive.
- If you want to maximize your cash back without signing up for multiple cash-back sites, TopCashback is great.
But if you’re more of an optimizer who wants to get the most cash back every time, consider signing up for all of them. Then, you can use websites like Cashback Monitor to keep track of which cash-back site is currently offering the best rate for a given retailer.
Regardless of which cash-back site you choose, Smith said you should “get into the habit of using [it]. Read and follow the directions on each retailer’s specific cashback page, bundle savings, and tell all your friends and family about it.”
The sooner you find the right cash-back site, the sooner you’ll start earning money. For my part, $220 in six months isn’t going to make me rich — but it’s two weeks’ worth of groceries, so I’m not complaining.
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