Remember how much of a pain it used to be to get a rebate? For $20 back on, say, a new printer, you had to fill out a form (sometimes several), cut out a UPC, mail everything to the manufacturer, wait eight to 12 weeks and hope that maybe, just maybe, that rebate check would land in your mailbox.
The horror. The horror.
These days, it’s a lot easier to get rebates — except now they’re called “cash back,” and the process is almost entirely automated. So automated, in fact, that it can seem almost too good to be true.
Good news: It’s not. By leveraging one or more cash-back tools and services, you can save money or earn rewards — not just on a select few items, but on nearly everything you buy. Let’s take a look at the various options.
Cash-back credit cards
I’m not going to spend a lot of time here, other than to say that if you’re not using a cash-back card, you’re literally throwing money away. It’s the easiest and most straightforward way to recoup a percentage of nearly everything you buy.
Let’s say you use a card that awards you one point for every dollar you spend. In most cases you can redeem those points for travel, goods, services or the like. You can also convert them to “cash,” which usually takes the form of statement credit. You probably won’t get a check in the mail, but you will get credit applied to your account — which is kind of the same thing. It’s money, however you look at it.
When searching for a cash-back card, pay attention to the percentages you’ll get back — and the annual fees. For example, there’s the, which pays you back 4% on restaurant and bar purchases, 3% on hotels and airfare, 2% on online purchases (including Uber rides) and 1% for everything else. It has no annual fee.
Those points may not sound like a lot, but it adds up. Let’s say your monthly credit card bill is $2,000. Assuming you always pay it off in full, and you get just 1% back, that’s an extra $20 in your pocket every month — or an extra $240 per year. For doing nothing.
If you’re a frequent Amazon shopper, I highly recommend signing up for one of the company’s credit cards. Each offers 5% cash back on nearly every Amazon purchase. There’s the Amazon Store Card, which is good only at Amazon and offers interest-free financing on 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 non-Amazon purchases as well.
Cash back for online purchases
Here’s a hypothetical: You need a new fridge. You do some research, find a model you like, then proceed to shop around online for the lowest price on that model. Turns out it’s at JCPenney.
Then, remembering the sage advice of one Rick “The Cheapskate” Broida, you head to cash-back service Rakuten (formerly Ebates), where you discover you can get a 3% rebate on JCPenney purchases. So you click through from Rakuten to the JCPenney online store and order your fridge like you normally would.
Not long after, you get a $51.42 credit. After that, you receive an actual check (or PayPal deposit). For doing almost nothing.
Full disclosure: That wasn’t a hypothetical. It happened to me. And it’s why I’ve been championing online cash-back services for years. They’re easy to use and come with no strings attached. (Actually, I guess there’s one string: Rakuten and similar services collect data about where you shop and what you buy. Some people are bothered by that. I’m not.)
Over time I’ve recouped hundreds of dollars I’d have otherwise forfeited. Little purchases here, big ones there. It adds up. Here are two services I recommend checking out:
Rakuten: Rakuten is arguably the best-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’s a cash-back option for any 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 to support in-store cash-back shopping as well. Every 90 days, Rakuten pays out your rebates in the form of a check or PayPal deposit……Read More>>