Do you remember how much pain it used to be to get a discount? For $ 20 back on, say, a new printer, you had to fill out a form (sometimes several), cut out a UPC, send everything to the manufacturer, wait eight to 12 weeks and hope that maybe, just maybe, the discount check would land in your mailbox.
fear. The horror.
Today it is much easier to get discounts – except now they are called "cash back", and the process is almost completely automated. So automated, in fact, that it may seem almost too good to be true.
Good news: It is not. By using one or more repayment tools and services, you can save money or earn rewards – not just on a few items but on almost everything you buy. Let's take a look at the different options.
Cash-back credit card
I'm not going to spend a lot of time here, other than to say that if you don't use a cash-back card, you literally throw money. It's the simplest and easiest way to get a percentage back on almost everything you buy.
Let's say you use a card that gives you a point for every dollar you spend. In most cases, you can redeem these points for travel, goods, services or the like. You can also convert them into "cash", which usually takes the form of statement credit. You probably won't get a check in the mail, but you will get credits in your account – which is the same. It's money, but you look at it.
When searching for a cash-back card, pay attention to the percentages you get back – and annual fees. For example, there isthat pays you back 4% on restaurant and bar purchases, 3% on hotels and flights, 2% on online purchases (including Uber rides) and 1% on everything Other . It has no annual fee.
These points may not sound like much, but it adds up. Let's say your monthly credit card bill is $ 2,000. Assuming you always pay it in full and you only get 1% back, that's an extra $ 20 in your pocket each month – or an extra $ 240 a year. For not doing anything.
If you are a regular Amazon shopper, I strongly recommend that you sign up for one of the company's credit cards. Each offers 5% cash back on almost every Amazon purchase. There is the Amazon Store Card, which is only good on Amazon and offers interest-free financing for various purchases. (Right now you can also get a $ 60 gift card when you sign up.) Then there's the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, a more traditional credit card that gives you cash back for purchases outside of Amazon as well.
Cashback for online purchases
Here is a hypothetical: You need a new refrigerator. You do some research, find a model you like and then continue shopping online for the lowest price of that model. Turns out it's on JCPenney.
Then you remember sage advice from a Rick "The Cheapskate" Broida, and take you to the cash-back service Rakuten (formerly Ebates), where you find that you can get a 3% discount on JCPenney purchases. So you click through from Rakuten to the JCPenney online store and order your refrigerator as you would normally do.
Not long after, you get a credit of $ 51.42. After that, you will receive an actual check (or PayPal deposit). To do almost nothing.
Full disclosure: It was not a hypothetical. It happened to me. And that's why I've been advocating online repayment services for years. They are easy to use and delivered without strings. (I guess there is a string: Rakuten and similar services collect information about where you shop and what you buy. Some people are bothered by it. I'm not.)
Over time, I've recovered hundreds of dollars otherwise I would have lost. Small purchases here, big ones there. It adds. Here are two services I recommend checking out:
- Rakuten: The rakuten is arguably the most well-known service of its kind – or, at least, it was before the inexplicable name change. I like it for its simplicity and reliability. Its browser plug-in makes it easy for me to check if there is a cash-back option for a given store, and its apps support mobile cash-back shopping. (Many, if not most, cash-back services require a desktop browser.) The service is also among the few that also support cash-back shopping in the store. Every 90 days, Rakuten pays your discounts in the form of a check or PayPal deposit.
- Honey Gold: Built around a browser plugin that finds discount codes on checkout pages and tracks the price history of stores like Amazon and Best Buy, Honey Gold takes a different approach. "Every reward is a surprise," it says, meaning the repayment percentage remains a mystery until after the purchase. It can be 1-5% on eBay, 1-10% on Walmart and so on. However, this is not straight cash. Points can only be redeemed for gift cards and only in a dozen stores. Use Honey Gold only if you cannot find a cash-back option from one of the other services.
One important thing to note: If you use any of these tools in a desktop browser, be sure to disable any ad blockers you may be using – at least for the service and store you are visiting. Using an ad blocker can interfere with the necessary tracking, which means you may not receive your discount.
Cash Back Services for Credit Purchases
A growing number of services offer a computer-free way to get money back. By linking your credit card you can get to the extra savings just by shopping as you normally do. Go to restaurants, book hotels and buy things as usual and presto: cashback. And yes, they work even if you already get money back from the card provider. Double dip, anyone?
The only catch is that you do not get rewards anywhere, only from stores participating in the given program. So you may have to make a small advance record.
Here is a look at three of these services, which I have all tried and can definitely recommend.
- Dosh: Dosh, which started in 2017, has evolved into one of my favorite reimbursement services. Just link one or more credit cards to your account and then browse available offers. These typically include not only local restaurants and businesses, but also national chains (for example, 5% at Sam's Club) and online stores (for example, 3% at Old Navy). The app has recently put back money for hotel bookings as well. Payments can be donated to charity or directed directly to your bank or PayPal account.
- Drop: Similar to Dosh, but with a point-for-gift card system instead of actual cash, Drop works on a combination of ongoing and one-off offers. You can pick up to five "favorites" that earn you points with every purchase, from places like Starbucks, Walmart, Whole Foods and Uber. In the case of one-off offers, they are for things like "30 points for every $ 1 you spend on Zenni," and "15 points per $ 1 spent on Apple." Generally, I do not love this type of structure, but it is so easy to automatically earn points (and therefore rewards) by shopping in your favorite stores, I definitely recommend Drop.
- Yelp Cash Back: I would call it "Dosh for Restaurants" because it works the same way: Link a credit card, eat out at select restaurants, earn money back. Unfortunately, not a single credit card can be linked to both Dosh and Yelp, as both use third-party e-commerce company Empyr for actual payments. And that explains why I noticed a lot of overlap between the two, both in restaurants and payback percentage. Consequently, you stand to save more overall by using Dosh, but if restaurants are your focus, Yelp Cash Back is really worth a look.
If you are not willing to give your credit card number to services like these, I can certainly understand that. However, please note that your numbers are encrypted, all credit cards have on-site protection to protect you from fraud and your card is already available in all stores and services. So what's more, especially if there's money in it for you?
Cash-back services after purchase
There is another option for dipping in cash-back to. After-sales services provide discounts after the fact – usually by looking at your receipts. (And if this raises concerns about integrity, well, I'm a little surprised that you've even found it so far. But keep reading.)
Let's take a look at two notable alternatives, starting with one that can make you a price match refund without raising a finger.
- Paribus: Many online stores offer price matching and purchase protection. So if you buy something and then the price drops, you can get a refund for the difference. Paribus tracks your purchases and when a lower price is found you contact customer service on your behalf to receive the refund. It doesn't cost anything to use the service, but you have to let it monitor your email so it can automatically find receipts. Fortunately, there is this great disclaimer up front: "We do not sell or share your information to third parties."
- Receipt Hog: Are you planning to share your paper receipts for market research purposes? If not, scan them with a receipt log. Every net you coin you can eventually redeem for cash or gift cards. You can also earn coins by completing surveys, connecting email and Amazon accounts, and playing "hog slots". Honestly, I don't love this app, largely because it requires full-time location access. There are similar apps, such as ReceiptPal, that can also work with electronic receipts. Despite that, I feel there is too much work for too little reward. But it is another form of cash back, and therefore worth mentioning.
If you wonder why I did not include the popular Ibotta in this story, it is because the app requires a lot of jumping. For example, to get money back from grocery shopping, you must claim offers before you shop and remember to submit your receipt after. And to demand offers, you have to answer questions about your household, education and so on. You can definitely save money with Ibotta, it just requires more effort.
Similarly, there are many other tools and services that I did not cover here. If you use one of them and think it deserves a mention, do it in every way in the comments!
Originally published last year and updated with new information.