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Start the year by getting cash back on your shopping

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January 4, 2016
When you’ve grown accustomed to hearing and trusting that free lunches don’t exist, you look at any reward system with a suspicious eye.

The Internet, and most specifically online shopping, has changed that for the better.

Websites offer a multitude of ways to earn money, like taking surveys, linking to a site as an affiliate and offering you cash back or coupons for purchases.

I believe nobody should ever pay full price, so I love the companies that focus on bargains.

Cash-back sites help you save money.

What’s the catch, you ask?

There really isn’t one.

You choose a site and register on it, which should be free.

Then start shopping at your favorite retailer, assuming that store is on their list, or looking for a specific item.

These websites receive a commission for getting customers to merchants’ websites, and that’s where they get the money to give back to you.

Let’s see how each of the following cash-back sites work so you can get started shopping.

Ebates

    Launched: 1998, the granddaddy of them all
    Navigation: Very intuitive
    Merchants: 1,800
    Major retailers: Amazon, ebay, Macy’s, Walmart, Groupon
    Welcome gift: Choose from a $10 cash bonus or $10 Walmart gift card after your first purchase of $25.
    Payout: Every three months they send you a check or deposit the amount you’ve earned into your PayPal account as long as it’s at least $5.01. If your payout is less, it rolls over into the next quarter.
    My take: To make shopping on their site more attractive, they say you’ll get “up to 40% cash back on almost everything you buy.” The qualifiers in that phrase are “up to” and “almost everything you buy.” The truth is you’re likely to get between 2% and 8% of the amount of your purchase from retail stores, more with travel deals and 40% for magazine subscriptions.

Top Cashback

    Launched: 2005
    Navigation: Difficult, hard to determine how site works
    Merchants: 3,500
    Major retailers: Amazon, ebay, Macy’s, Walmart, Groupon
    Welcome gift: None
    Payout: Murky as to when. You must wait until the retailer’s returns periods are over. Cash back paid through ACH (Automated Clearing House), PayPal or an Amazon gift certificate.
    My take: Every few days they publish a newsletter on the deals of the week. They don’t have a search box so you can look for information, you can only hunt for merchants. Rebates range from 2% to 10% for retail or travel purchases, and 30% for magazines.

Mr. Rebates

    Launched: 2002
    Navigation: Intuitive
    Merchants: 2,000
    Major retailers: Amazon, Macy’s, Walmart, Sears, LivingSocial
    Welcome gift: $5 (First Time Purchase Bonus)
    Payout: 90 days after your transaction you can request your cash. The amount must be at least $10 and you can ask for a check or a transfer to your PayPal account.
    My take: This bright, colorful site is easy to use, displaying all participating merchants in a single map. There’s a wide range of rewards, from 0.50% to 20% for stores and travel, and up to 40% for magazine subscriptions. Refer a friend or family member and you get 20% of whatever rebates they earn.

ShopAtHome

    Launched: By the company that created the “Catalog of Catalogs” in the ’80s
    Navigation: Intuitive
    Merchants: 3,000
    Major retailers: Best Buy, Walmart, Macy’s, Sephora, Nordstrom
    Welcome gift: $10
    Payout: If you’ve earned a minimum of $20, you can ask for a check. They’re issued at the end of every month, however you won’t get one until it’s been 60 days since you’ve earned it. They only pay via check. Cash-back percentages range from 2% to 6% for retailers, 10% for magazine subscriptions and 16% if you sign up for classes at Udemy.
    My take: I like this site. It’s cozy, friendly and isn’t trying to be all things to all people. The straight forwardness makes ShopAtHome very appealing. It offers coupons and a loyalty rewards system in addition to cash back.

Fat Wallet

    Launched: 1999
    Navigation: Difficult
    Merchants: 1,600
    Major retailers: Expedia, Walmart, Cabela’s, Kmart, ebay
    Welcome gift: None
    Payout: You must have at least $10 in your account to request a payment. Then it may take up to 90 days before your cash is available. When it shows up on your account as “available cash back,” the site will either mail you a check or put a deposit in PayPal.
    My take: Unlike the others, FatWallet shows location-specific deals, so I see Groupon and LivingSocial bargains available in Seattle. I find this site very difficult to navigate. When you’re a novice, it’s almost impossible to find out how it works. The website offers “frequently-asked questions” that the creators made up and didn’t impart most of the info I needed.

Of course more cash-back websites have a web presence, but these seem like the most popular ones. Anything I noted can change so you need to check for yourself. Happy shopping.

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