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Are Cash Back Websites Really Worth the Hassle?

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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?

Updated July 17, 2017 and originally published July 12, 2017.

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