Did you know you can get cash back for almost everything you purchase online? It's true and I've been doing it for years earning a cash discount for buying things I need anyway that are often already deeply discounted by comparing prices, price matching, taking advantage of sales, using a coupon, and getting rewards on my credit card. Add cash back to that and you usually have a real sweetheart of a deal.
How Much Can You Earn?
It all depends on what you buy but rebates can range from 1 or 2 percent of your total purchase amount all the way up to 30% or even 50% for higher margin products. There are often cash back boost promotions as well that can double or even triple the normal cash back rate a store offers.
$1203.45 - My Lifetime Earnings
I've been using cash back websites for quite a few years now and I've really been able to rack up the cash. Whenever I book a trip through Priceline, Hotwire, or an online travel agent I use cash back. When I made purchases on Ebay - cash back. New tires purchased out of the USA - you guessed it, cash back!
It all adds up over time to a significant chunk of change. There were a few purchases in there that were related to my business along with a small amount of money for referring a few people, but over 90% of that grand total is just from regular purchases I've made online over the years.
How It Works
It's really simple actually. Whenever you have decided to buy something online, log into one of the cash back websites listed below using the free account you can create in a few seconds, and use the search box on the cash back site to look for the name of the store you are planning to buy from.
If the cash back site has a partnership with that store, it will show you how much percentage-wise you will earn for your purchase. Click on the special link from the cash back website over to the store you are buying from (tip: you can even do this after your items are already in your cart). Now your purchases will be tracked and your reward will show up in your online account in a few days to a week's time.
Finally, you will need to wait about 30-60 days or so until the cash back "clears" and becomes available for payment. Now, as long as you've setup your payment details properly and you've reached the minimum payment threshold (typically around $10), you will be paid out either by cheque or via Paypal. Most cash back sites offer both the cheque and Paypal options, but it can vary from site to site. The payment threshold, payment schedule, and time to clear can also vary.
The good news is: I've always received any cash back that I have been entitled to. These sites actually do pay you it just takes a little patience.
Canadian Specific Cash Back Sites
1) Great Canadian Rebates
This is the oldest and still the best cash back website in Canada. It was launched in 2005 and has been going strong ever since. I've racked up almost $450 in cash back from them alone and continue to check them first for all my Canadian online purchases.
They even give you $2 in free cash just for signing up and they have the highest payouts when compared to all the other Canadian options. I checked 4 or 5 stores across all the Canadian sites and they had an equivalent or better cash back rate every time. And, if you refer some friends, they will throw in 15% of your friend's cash back as an additional credit to you.
Ebates has been around a long time in the USA, but they are a relative newcomer to Canada and it's a good thing they came along too now that DealGuild is defunct. It's good to have more than one major player in the cash back game so there are more stores to choose from and you can choose the higher cash back rate between the two of them.
One big perk is that they give $5 free just for signing up so creating an account can be worth it just for that. If you refer a friend, they give you a straight $5 cash back credit as well but there is no ongoing bonus whenever you friend makes more purchases.
Swagbucks isn't strictly a cash back program because you earn points instead of cash. You can also earn points for doing all kinds of things ranging from surveys, to playing games, to searching the web. However, they do have an online shopping section that lets you earn Swagbucks for every dollar you spend at popular stores. Swagbucks can be easily redeem for cash via PayPal or Amazon.ca gift cards - so they are basically as good as cash.
4) MBNA Rewards Mall
The MBNA Rewards Mastercard is a good no-fee credit card that gives you the equivalent of 1% cash back on ALL your everyday purchases in points.
In addition to the regular points you get when making purchases, they decided to launch an eMall that is exclusive to their cardholders. It works just like a cash back site except for the extra money gets credited to your rewards balance on top of the 1% you are already earning. You can get your cash as a direct deposit, cheque, or statement credit to your Mastercard account.
What makes this a good deal is that I noticed some of the cash back rates they offer are higher than what other sites are offering. Some are lower as well, but it is a decent alternative and the convenience of not having another account to manage on top of your credit card rewards can be a definite plus.
USA & Other Cash Back Sites
As Canadians, a lot of the online stores we shop at either have roots in the USA or we are purchasing directly from them across the border. For that reason you don't want to limit yourself to just Canadian cash back sites when making an online purchase.
Checking the following sites when shopping at US and international based retailers can earn you a lot more cash back and some of them even list some Canadian stores as well so you might want to check your favourite one of these as well before making a purchase at a Canadian store.
TopCashBack was originally started in the UK and has expanded into the USA. Their claim to fame is that they give 100% of the affiliate commission they receive from their partner stores directly to their users keeping none of it for themselves. They also have no minimum payout thresholds and don't charge any fees. I have no idea how they make money themselves with this arrangement, but they've obviously figured out some way to do it, so good for them.
I did my own comparison of a few USA stores and they do indeed offer the highest payout almost all of the time making them my first choice.
They have a very simple site but they consistently offer some of the highest rebates I've seen and have a good collection of accompanying coupons to use as well. They also offer merchant reviews, cash back reliability ratings, and a lot of very visible information so you know exactly what to expect when purchasing from a specific merchant.
Being founded in 1998, I think Ebates has been around the longest of all the USA cash back sites. They've also managed to swallow up a few other competing sites and continue to offer some of the highest earning percentages and friend referral bonuses out there. In addition, they offer cash back at Amazon.com, which not all of the others do!
ShopAtHome doesn't always have the highest payouts but they do 110% guarantee that they have the highest payouts which makes them an interesting choice. That means that you can essentially get them to beat the cash back rate offered by any other competing site by 10%.
It's a bit of an extra hassle but it does mean you can get a slightly higher payout for a little bit of extra work. They make the matching process pretty simple with a custom match page for every merchant where you can fill out the details of the competing rate and submit your claim for the increased rate and 10% bonus.
Big Crumbs used to be my favourite American cash back site because they offered higher rates than I was used to at the time and they also had a tiered system where your referrals' purchases and your referrals referrals' purchases would earn you additional cash back.
They still offer you some extra cash on your referrals' purchases, but their earning rates are now typically lower than most of their competitors. They're still worth a look, but you'll usually do better somewhere else.
One cool feature they do have is that by earning cash back, you also become a part owner in their business via their CrumbShares program so if they ever sell the business you will get a cut of the profit from the sale. That's a pretty unique benefit that none of the others offer but it isn't guaranteed to happen either.
FatWallet doesn't really have anything special that stands out about it which is why I've ranked it 6th. However, I did use them frequently for Priceline booking because they always offered the highest rates on Name Your Own Price Hotels. They still do have the highest rates for the odd store so it's worth checking them out from time to time to see if you can get a better rate.
Tips To Make Your Cash Back Experience Better
1) Clear Your Cookies First
Cash back sites often deposit cookies on your computer to track your purchases and award you your cash back. The thing is that if you click another link to the same store or have an old cookie lying around for the same store you are shopping at, it could theoretically override the cookie from your cash back site and another site will get credited for the purchase instead of the cash back site you used.
2) Compare Cash Back Rates
Some people use one cash back site religiously. Like for most things in life, it pays to shop around. Unless you are adamant about simplicity, you should at least have 2-3 cash back accounts that you check whenever you make a purchase. Here are a couple of resources that help you check dozens of sites all at once:
3) Don't Forget Services And Financial Products
When people think cash back, they usually think of buying a physical product but there is actually a whole range of other intangible products and services that pay as well. Think Netflix, bank accounts, reward credit cards, online learning courses, eBooks, etc.
4) Read The Fine Print And Check Exclusions
Most of these sites have a more details link you can click that gives you additional details about the terms of the cash back being offered for a particular retailer. You definitely want to to find that extra information because it will tell you if certain product categories earn a smaller percentage or if there are any exclusions like gift cards, etc.
5) Things That Can Potentially Invalidate Your Transaction
There are some thing you can do that will prevent you from getting your cash back. Here are the most common things:
- Using a coupon code found on another site than the cash back site itself. Sometimes the better coupons out there are specially coded so that can't combined with other discounts or payouts. Coupon codes from other sites generally do work but if you want safe instead of sorry then you avoid them.
- Cash back typically can't be combined with any other reward or offer from another 3rd party site. By 3rd party site I mean a site that isn't the store you are making your final purchase from. For example, you can't combine bonus Air Miles from airmilesshops.ca with cash back. You have to choose one or the other.
- Browsing a lot of other sites and clicking a bunch of random links after clicking the link to the store you are shopping at is never a good idea. You run the risk of another site getting credit for your purchase when you do this. If you happen to do this by mistake, clear your cookies and start again.