I run several online businesses and am proud to have multiple income streams. But the easiest source of income comes from using cashback websites.
Because when I use cashback sites, I get paid cash just for doing the online shopping I'd be doing anyway.
Cashback sites are a great way to make some extra money. So if you're ready to get your hands on some “free money,” then you need to understand how cashback websites work.
What Are Cashback Sites?
Cashback sites are websites that allow you to earn money while you spend money. The cash you earn while shopping online is typically a small percentage of your shopping total.
Because you can view many different store websites from one cashback site, you can think of them as an online shopping mall.
There are many different cashback sites these days and I'll be reviewing some of the best ones later on. Cashback sites usually have a few things in common:
- You can browse online shopping websites by name or category
- Your earnings vary depending on how much you spend (and at what store)
- They show current, valid coupon codes
- There are usually cashback offers for “regular” retail stores (like Target, Walmart, and Home Depot) as well as specialty websites like Hotels.com, TurboTax, and Raise
- They offer payment in the form of a check, gift card, or PayPal transfer
How do Cashback Sites Work?
Here's how most cashback websites work:
- Head over to a cashback website (like Rakuten.com, for example) and create your account
- Browse (or search) for the store you want to shop at
- Click a special link on the cashback site that will take you to the store site
- Complete your purchase as usual
- Earn a set percentage of cash back on that purchase (may range from 1% – 8%)
- Request your cashback payout from the cashback site
Let me tell you why step 3 is the most important one.
That “special link” that you get on the cashback website has a tracking code in it. Another term for this is an “affiliate link.”
So when you're on Rakuten and click their link for Target.com, you're really getting a special affiliate link that's tied to your Rakuten account.
This is what allows these sites to track your purchase so that they can give you your cash back!
Note that steps 5-6 never happen right away. The cashback site has to confirm your purchase with the retailer. And you often have to wait for the Returns period to end before being eligible to request your payout.
So don't go into this thinking you can spend big today and get your PayPal money tomorrow! But over time, you can really roll up a nice balance and start getting large payments.
My Pro Tip on Cashback Percentages
When you're browsing cashback sites, look out for the words “up to” on the cashback offers. Some stores (like Amazon) will offer different percentages of cash back across different categories.
So, buying Clothes on Amazon might get you 8% but buying some cat food might only earn 1%. But the cashback sites will usually say “Earn up to 8% Cash Back on Amazon!”
Here's a current example from Mr. Rebates, but it's common on all of the cashback websites.
It can seem misleading until you understand what's going on, so I just want you to be aware before you make your first purchase.
How Do Cashback Sites Make Money?
At this point, it may seem like sites like Rakuten are just cutting you a check for no reason. But I'm sure you've guessed that they have a way to make money on this, too!
Cashback sites earn an affiliate commission from the retail websites. Cashback sites are paid by the stores (for sending them eager customers) and then they share some of that payment with you in the form of cash back.
This means that these sites are all free for you to use but they let both you and the cashback company make money. A serious win-win!
Can You Combine Multiple Cashback Site Offers?
Here's a question that I get a lot and it's a good one.
Many savvy shoppers are quick to ask me, “can I combine multiple cash back offers to stack my savings?”
And, sadly, my answer is No.
You can only use one special tracking link at a time. Generally, the most recently clicked link will “win” and any other cashback links won't count.
So if you see a 4% cashback deal for Walmart on Rakuten and then a 5% cashback deal for Walmart on Swagbucks, you have to pick just one.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but it's better for you to know now!
Why You Should Use Cash Back Sites to Earn Money
Honestly, there's no reason not to use cashback sites if you already do online shopping.
It takes almost no extra effort (especially for the sites with browser extensions) and it's completely free to use.
Think about it, if you're going to be doing online shopping anyway, shouldn't you at least earn a little money while you do it?
Plus, once you're on these cashback sites, you might even score some coupon codes that you would have otherwise missed.
Of course, there's something important to keep in mind as you shop. You need to use the cashback portals to shop at a site where you'd already be shopping. Cliff and I never make a purchase just to earn the cash back. It's safer to treat the cashback as a bonus instead of a business model.
Cashback Sites Comparison
All the sites I'm comparing work basically the same way. But when you're comparing offers on cashback sites, there are a few things to look out for.
- Highest percentage of cash back. This can vary day to day or because of a special savings event. Feel free to shop around before making your choice.
- Payout method. Different sites offer different payment options for collecting your “cash”: PayPal, gift card, mailed check, etc.
- Payout minimums. Most sites require you to meet a certain threshold before they'll send you your money. For example, nobody's going to cut you a check for $0.65. Make sure you know the minimum for each cashback site.
If you click through the links to each website, you should always be able to read each site's full rules for earnings and payouts.
And remember, it's ok to check multiple cashback sites for price comparisons, but you won't receive a payment from multiple sites for the same transaction.
Now let's take a look at the 7 best cashback sites online.
Maybe that's because I've already earned over $11,000 in cashback by doing online shopping on Rakuten!
Rakuten is the biggest name when it comes to cashback savings. They've been around since 1999 and currently have over 10 million members.
One of my favorite things about Rakuten is their “Rakuten Button” browser extension. With this running, I never have to worry about forgetting to activate my cashback offer. If I'm on an Rakuten-approved site, the Rakuten Button lights up to remind me to turn on cashback tracking.
Other cool Rakuten perks include Double Cash Back deals, in-store cashback opportunities, and their $10 sign-up bonus.
If you sign up here for a new Rakuten account, you can get a $10 cash bonus. You just have to make a minimum purchase of $25 within the first 90 days of signing up for your account.
For more information, check out my full Rakuten review.
Top Cashback is another trusted cashback company that I've been using for the last few years. This UK-based company launched in 2005 and entered the US marketplace in 2011. So you can feel good about their reputation as a brand.
TopCashBack's claim to fame is that they offer the highest cash back percentage around. That's because they give their entire commission back to you in the form of cashback.
Don't worry, they still get paid by selling advertising space on their website. 😉
You can browse their collection of 4,000+ stores and take advantage of high cash back earnings, frequent payments, and low minimum payout thresholds. If you take your payment in the form of a gift card, you get a bonus of 2.5% payout!
3. Mr. Rebates
Mr. Rebates has been around since 2002, so you'll have to forgive their website for looking a little old school.
This trusted brand offers cashback deals and coupons for more than 3,000 stores. You can start earning cashback by browsing deals on their site or by installing their free Chrome extension: the Quick Cash button.
There's even a Mr. Rebates mobile app for iOS and Android. This is great if you do most of your online shopping from your phone or iPad.
After you've earned some money, you can cash out via check or PayPal as long as you have a $10 available account balance.
Swagbucks is unique in that it offers other ways to earn cashback besides shopping. You can treat Swagbucks like a regular cashback website, but you can also make a little extra cash by watching videos or taking surveys.
When you earn on Swagbucks, you're technically earning SB Points instead of cash. But you're able to redeem your points for gift cards (Amazon, Walmart, etc) or even a PayPal deposit. So it works out basically the same as the other sites.
Now I'm not saying that you're going to get rich by taking Swagbucks surveys, but every little extra bit can add up. I've got some tips for making the most out of Swagbucks if you want to learn more.
Swagbucks also offers a mobile app and a browser extension (the SwagButton) for easier shopping. You can create your Swagbucks account right here to start earning cash.
BeFrugal is a reliable cashback site with a strong emphasis on stellar customer service.
BeFrugal offers a couple of awesome guarantees:
- A 125% Cash Back guarantee. So if you find a better deal on another site, they'll match it and throw in an extra 25%
- They guarantee their coupon codes, too. If one of their codes doesn't work, they'll give you a $5 account credit
They also make it easy to earn cashback with their Shop Now browser button. Plus, they have over 5,000 retailers on their site. Cashback payouts come in the form of a check, direct deposit, PayPal, and gift card.
Create a free account to start earning cashback at BeFrugal. There's even a $10 bonus for new members!
With thousands of big-name stores to choose from, ShopAtHome is definitely worth a visit before your next online shopping haul.
They have cashback offers, coupon codes, paid surveys, and some special savings deals. For example, on the day I wrote this post, Home Depot was a featured retailer giving 8% cashback. Savings like that can really add up!
The ShopAtHome Savings Button will make sure you never forget to track your purchases. This free Chrome extension even alerts you when coupon codes are available.
Create your account here, start earning cash, and then request your payment in the form of a check, PayPal transfer, or Amazon Gift Card.
If you already know that every bit of cash back you get is going to your child's college savings fund, then Upromise is for you.
Upromise wants to help make it easier for families to save money for college. They offer a variety of ways to earn money: online shopping (like the other cashback sites), dining out, and a special cashback Mastercard.
Once you're ready to withdraw your savings, you can have your Upromise earnings transferred to a checking account, savings account, or even an eligible 529 College Savings Plan.
Head over to the Upromise website to create your account and learn about the different ways to save.
Cashback shopping may seem a little strange at first, but it really is a simple way to make extra money at home.
I hope this cashback comparison encourages you to give it a shot. If you already do online shopping, you have nothing to lose!
If I left your favorite site off the list, let me know what it is and why you love it!