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Adam Luehrs

You’ve probably seen at least a few of your friends brag about their coupon-clipping triumphs and bargain-hunting victories all over social media throughout the years. However, it suddenly seems like everybody has moved past sales and coupons into the world of cash back websites. What’s the hype?

These websites offer a very tempting service by essentially combining the act of spending money with the promise of earning money. Users sign up to get a percentage of what they spend back in their pockets, if they shop using a specific member portal.

So, are these rewards websites worth the hassle? Discover what it really takes to get a few bucks back.

What Are Cash-Back Websites?

Unlike couponing, cash back shopping doesn’t require you to spend hours tracking down discount codes. That doesn’t mean you won’t still need to take a few extra steps, though.

By signing up, you willingly forgo the freedom of simply visiting the websites of the retailers you like and filling your cart… well, at least if you want to get cash back for your purchases. You will need to remember to sign into the account on your preferred cash back website, clink on a link that will take you to a participating retailer, and then complete the checkout process.

This added step may or may not be worth your time, depending on the cash you’ll earn.

The Pros of Using Cash-Back Websites

Most cash back websites promise a refund rate of between 1% and 15% on purchases. This is a great way to put some tax-free money back in your pocket.

Some of these sites offer you a straight cash refund, deposited directly into your bank account. Others offer you retail gift cards, which you can use on future online shopping buys.

Learn More: 10 Easy Ways to Save Money Without Much Effort

The good thing about the well-known cash back websites is that they are connected with many popular brands and retailers. This means that you are more likely to find what you’re looking for, no matter the type of shopping that you’re doing. You can typically make purchases from the major retailers — like Amazon and department stores such as Sears — when using a cash back portal to get deals.

The Drawbacks of Cash-Back Websites

You may have to jump through some hoops to get juicy rewards using cash back websites.

While most popular rewards websites do work with major retailers, they often only offer deals in limited categories. That means you may only be able to get cash back when you purchase beauty supplies on Amazon.com, even if what you really need is a new laptop.

In addition, cash back categories and percentages are constantly revolving. This can make you feel like you are changing your shopping habits or settling for less than what you really want just for the sake of making your purchases qualify for rewards.

Resource: 11 Ways to Start Preparing for the Holiday Shopping Pinch (Yes, Already)

As mentioned above, not every cash back company offers cash. Some only reward you with gift cards. This may be fine if they offer gift cards for a company you regularly buy from, but it does limit your options.

Another big drawback is that you don’t typically receive your earned rewards right away. Many cash back websites only offer quarterly payment periods or require a minimum account balance for earned dollars before you can get paid.

One way to get around the time-consuming nature of trying to earn qualifying cash back is to download an app. These apps work with many of the major cash back websites to automatically apply rebates when you shop. However, a tool like this still has its limitations.

How Much Can You Expect to Get Back?

You’re not likely to be disappointed by cash back websites, unless you’re expecting to make a fortune in rewards.

These sites are not designed to help you earn thousands of dollars per year. In fact, the average person probably won’t earn more than $100 during an entire year of shopping. However, how much you do earn back will depend on the types of purchases you make and the retailers you shop with.

Plus, free money is free money, whether it’s $5 or $500. Even getting back just $100 in a year could pay for 12 months of your Netflix subscription or a night at a nice bed-and-breakfast.

Related: The Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2017

Things to Remember

It’s okay to be skeptical about situations that seem too good to be true, especially when hunting for deals online. Here are some tips to avoid being scammed or simply wasting your time while diving into the cash-back world:

  • Membership for a cash-back website should never come with a fee.
  • You should never have to recruit a certain amount of new members in order to qualify for deals.
  • A reputable website will have reasonable payout periods and conditions.

Try to stick with popular cash back sites like Ebates or Swagbucks if you want a safe bet. Companies that have been in business for several years and have relationships with major retailers will help you to get deals without worrying about scams.

Are Rewards Sites a Good Choice for You?

You really have to decide how much you value saving a few bucks here and there, versus saving a few minutes whenever you shop online.

A reputable cash back website certainly offers an honest way to walk away with some extra money in your pocket. You could easily save as much as $20 or $30 when buying a big-ticket item like a television or a kitchen appliance.That may very well be worth the additional minute or two that logging into a rewards portal would require.

The bottom line is that you have to decide whether the time and mental energy that you have to put into planning purchases to get rebates is really worth the effort. For those people who do most of their shopping online, and don’t mind putting a little bit of time into getting a deal, it’s a no-brainer.

Do you use cash back websites or apps? How much have you earned, and do you feel that the effort has been worth the return?

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Traveling to another state, or even to a foreign country, means experiencing a new culture, meeting new people, and making memories that can last a lifetime.

It can also mean visiting a hospital in a place where you don’t have any type of medical coverage or being stranded at an airport without your luggage.

This is why some travelers opt to buy travel insurance before taking trips. In fact, more than 33 million people typically purchase this type of insurance every year.

There are five main areas of coverage that fall under the umbrella of “travel insurance.” Here are the categories, which you may or may not be able to get in one package:

  • Trip cancellation or interruption insurance
  • Flight insurance
  • Evacuation coverage
  • Medical coverage
  • Baggage insurance

So, the question becomes: do you really need travel insurance?

Related: Thinking About Travel Hacking? Watch Out For the 5/24 Rule

Many people are pressured to buy travel insurance when booking trips through travel agencies, as agents typically get a commission when they sell a policy. However, this coverage isn’t one-size-fits-all, and the added expense isn’t always warranted.

The truth is that your need for coverage will depend on a few factors. Things like your age, your health, and your family responsibilities could make insurance a very smart option.

Whether or not you need to purchase coverage ultimately comes down to how much you have to lose if something unexpected happens while you’re traveling or before you leave for a trip.

Situations Where Travel Insurance Is Helpful

There are a few instances where it would be wise to seriously consider purchasing a travel coverage policy.

Political Concerns

Travel insurance could be beneficial if you’re traveling to a country with political unrest. This is  because you won’t be on the hook for expenses if you’re forced to leave early due to a political situation, or if you need to cancel your trip ahead of time due to a terrorist attack.

Likelihood of Cancellation/Interruption

Travel insurance is also worth paying for if you have personal obligations, work-related responsibilities, or health issues that could make it necessary to cancel your trip at the last minute. Trip insurance is the only thing that makes it possible for people with certain personal or professional lifestyles to plan trips without fear of losing thousands of dollars due to last-minute cancellations.

While emergencies can come up for anyone, there are some for whom unexpected situations arise frequently. If you’re one of those folks, a policy may very well be worth the expense.

Health Concerns

Of course, medical coverage is another big reason why travelers opt to purchase coverage. However, your regular insurance company may actually cover you already while you travel. Be sure to reach out to your insurer far in advance of your trip to see if you’ll be covered when visiting a specific destination. Then you’ll know if you even need temporary medical insurance while traveling.

You should also inquire about any exclusions or prerequisites for care that are in place. It’s not a bad idea to at least purchase a small supplemental policy while traveling if you have a specific condition that could require a visit to a doctor or hospital.

It’s important to note that Medicare will not cover you when you travel outside of the country.

Why You Might Not Need Travel Insurance

There are a few individuals for whom travel insurance isn’t necessarily warranted (though you may still want to consider it…. just in case!).

Young Whippersnappers

Younger travelers with generally good health more than likely won’t need travel insurance. Of course, unexpected illnesses could spring up at any time. You are always rolling the dice a bit when forgoing travel insurance. But if you’re healthy, it may be worth the gamble.

Those With Flexible Careers or the Retired

Buying cancellation or interruption insurance might not be warranted if you don’t have obligations that are likely to pop up. For instance, if you’re a freelance employee, small business owner, or have already retired, there’s not much of a chance that some situation at your job will force you to cancel your trip.

Caveats

One unfortunate fact is that having travel insurance doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be covered in the situations that you think you’ll have coverage.

For instance, some insurance companies that offer travel coverage will void policies if you’re traveling to an at-risk country. This is particularly true if it’s a country for which a travel warning has been issued by the State Department.

In addition, the medical insurance or evacuation insurance you purchase may not cover you if you were participating in a risky activity at the time of an accident. These include popular adventure activities than many plan to participate in while on vacation, such as bungee jumping, scuba diving, mountain climbing, or ziplining.

Learn More: 8 Ways to Stretch Your Vacation Dollar

So, if you’re purchasing travel health coverage for that scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, you should thoroughly check the policy first. You definitely want to make sure that you’re not just throwing money away!

The Cheapest Way to Get Travel Insurance

Some credit cards actually provide free trip insurance if you make payments with your card when booking your plans. Cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, and the Citi Prestige® card offer thousands of dollars in coverage to traveling cardholders.

Of course, your reason for canceling a trip will have to be considered “acceptable” by the standards of the particular policy being offered, if you want to receive reimbursement.

Some acceptable cancellation reasons would include illnesses or emergency situations outside of your personal control. In addition, you would typically be covered if the hotel or airline you booked reservations with suddenly went out of business before your trip happened.

Related: This Year’s Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Should You Purchase Travel Insurance Before Your Next Trip?

Don’t let the date on the calendar get too close to your departure date before making a decision about insurance. You typically want to purchase your policy within a few days of making the first payment on your trip, to avoid missing any important cutoff dates.

Here are the most important questions to ask yourself before you finalize your decision:

  • Can I afford to lose money on a canceled trip?
  • Am I at risk for a medical event while traveling?
  • Is there a chance I may need to cancel my trip?
  • Am I traveling to a place with political instability?

There’s a good chance that you need to purchase travel insurance if you answered positively to any of these questions.

You may actually be able to skip purchasing insurance if you have a credit card that offers coverage for free to cardholders. Be sure to check the policies and coverage involved. And be sure remember that while some companies simply require you to pay for part of your trip with that credit card in order to receive travel coverage, others require you to pay for the entire flight/hotel/travel expense on the card.

People who travel often can save a lot of money by simply paying the annual fee for a credit card that provides coverage, instead of purchasing policies every time they travel.

Related: How to Travel On a Budget

Have you ever wished you had purchased travel coverage, when an unexpected situation arose? Or have you bought a policy in the past and been glad you did? We want to hear about your experiences!

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