Honestly, when a blogger introduced me to the idea of cash back sites, I thought they were the scammiest thing in the world. Ebates’ YOU JUST WON THE SWEEPSTAKES! logo font certainly didn’t help matters.
But they really, legitimately do pay you money for clicking through their sites to shop. Why? Because, essentially, retailers are paying for the exposure.
This works a couple of different ways. Most of the sites (Ebates, Mr. Rebates, FatWallet) negotiate cash-back percentages with said retailers. Then they take a cut of the cash-back percentage to fund their operations. For example, if they negotiate a 4% cash back rate with Target, they might take 2% of that cash-back rate for themselves and pass the remaining 2% on to you.
TopCashback has a different business model: they use advertising on their site to pay for cash back. That means the cash back percentages they give you are almost universally higher than its competitors– NewEgg is 2% to Ebates’s 1%, Paula’s Choice is 7% to Mr. Rebates’s 5%, etc. It also means that on average, retailers might be taking a harder hit financial on their site, since they’re both paying for advertising and negotiating discounted rates.
This breakdown of all the biggest cash back sites is honestly more comprehensive than anything I would have written, so if you’re looking for more detail, I definitely encourage you to take a look!
From the list of cash-back sites, I’d mostly recommend two: Ebates (referral link) and TopCashback (referral link). Ebates over Mr Rebates I don’t have the greatest reason for, honestly– I think they’re roughly equivalent, and that in some cases Mr Rebates gives you better cash back percentages. I’m just inclined to recommend Ebates because I’ve actually used it, and I feel more comfortable recommending a site that I can personally vouch for.
Ebates offers you a $10 gift card to a few retailers when you get started, where Mr. Rebates gives you $7.50. TopCashback has no sign-up bonus, but usually gives better rates than Ebates, and their site design is less icky. It doesn’t have all of the same vendors– for example, HerRoom is a vendor on both Mr. Rebates and Ebates, but not on TopCashbacks. All three sites have referral programs, though they vary: Mr. Rebates gives you 20% cash back on friends’ rebates, TopCashback earns you $10 for each friend you refer, and Ebates has a referral bonus of $5/friend plus varying referral bonuses for 2 or more friends.
Remember to click through the sites to get your cash back.