Cash-back services sound too good to be true. You get money back when you shop online at many, if not most, stores? And there are no strings attached? Yeah, right.
Yeah, right! These are the real deal, and in fact if you’re not using a cash back service every time you shop, you’re leaving money on the table.
Cash back 101
They work like this: Suppose you’re shopping for a laptop and eyeballing a Lenovo. Normally you’d go to Lenovo’s site, choose your model and check out — same as you would for any other product at any other store.
To score extra cash back (and I say “extra” because I’m assuming you’re already using a cash back rewards credit card), you simply detour to a cash-back service — let’s say Ebates — and then proceed to Lenovo. Choose your model, check out like normal and you’re done.
If you happened to do that today, you’d have scored not only a coupon code good for 20% off, but also a cash rebate of 7%. So, for example, a Yoga Flex 14 priced at $850 would have dropped to around $720 post-coupon, and then to around $670 post-rebate.
That’s just one example. Cash-back rates vary from service to service, store to store and sometimes even week to week — but so what? Ultimate rewards come to those who take the time to explore all of their options. It’s extra money you wouldn’t have saved otherwise, and just as the rewards points you get from your credit card add up over time, so does this.
What’s the cash-back catch?
There must be a catch, right? You must be opening a veritable vein in your privacy and agreeing to all kinds of spam, telemarketing and other evils. Otherwise, how do these services make money?
Here’s how: Using the aforementioned example, when Ebates sends you to Lenovo and you buy something, Ebates earns a cut of that purchase — and gives you a cut of that cut. This is called affiliate marketing, and it’s extremely common on the interwebs these days. Case in point: CNET may earn commission from the services featured below.
Now, is there also some tracking and data-gathering involved? No question. These sites use browser cookies to track your purchase, which is necessary to confirm that purchase and give you your rebate. Do cash-back services also aggregate and sell this data? If you peruse the terms and conditions and privacy-policy pages, you’ll see that most of them say they reserve the right to do so.
Here’s my thinking: So what? There is so much tracking of your browsing and purchase activity already — think Amazon, Facebook, Google — who cares if Ebates tells some marketing company you bought a Keurig at Target? Or a laptop from Lenovo?
I don’t. I’d just as soon save money, thanks. Obviously if you prefer to keep your online activities as private as possible, maybe cash-back services aren’t for you. That’s cool, they’re optional. I’ll simply say that my use of cash-back services hasn’t resulted in an increase in spam, junk mail, telemarketing calls or anything like that. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I have zero qualms about recommending these services.
What’s the best cash-back service?
OK, but which ones? What qualifies as a “best” in my book? I prize simplicity above all else. I don’t want to have to jump through hoops like completing special offers, watching videos, earning points or building a pyramid of friends. I just want to shop like I normally do and score cash rebates along the way.
Then there’s longevity: There are lots of cash-back services out there. I look for those that have at least a few years under their belts. To me that satisfies the “trustworthiness” question: If a service hasn’t been good to its users, chances are it won’t be able to keep any. The exception I’m making here is for Dosh, which is relatively new — but I’ve found it to be excellent when I want to earn rewards.
Most cash-back services offer a sign up bonus, and of course it makes sense to look for the largest bonus you can get. Likewise, you can usually get referral bonuses for encouraging friends and family members to sign up, and those can add up. Right now, for example, Ebates pays a $25 bounty for each person who signs up with your referral ID code (and spends at least $25 using the service). If you manage to sign up just one person per month, you’re making $300 over the course of a year — that’s an easy way to be earning cash.
Finally, circling back to the question of privacy, of course it’s natural to be concerned about it. Be sure to peruse the privacy-policy pages and look for sections with titles like, “Use of information we collect.” If something jumps out as suspicious or just plain unacceptable, consider a different service instead…….Read More>>