Cash-back websites are built on the premise that you can earn money for something you most likely already do — shop.
How they work
Cash-back websites are essentially beefed-up coupon aggregators. They compile coupons and deals from thousands of retailers, and they offer cash back on qualifying members’ purchases. These websites get a commission from retailers for referring you to their stores, then pass some of that commission along to you, reflected in cash-back percentages.
Let’s say you make an online purchase at your favorite store after visiting Ebates or BeFrugal. You’d get a percentage of your order back. Buy a $200 item at 10% cash back, and you’d get $20 back.
Here’s what else you need to know about how they work:
|Cash-back offers available||Yes||Yes|
|Retailers with cash-back offers||Over 2,000||Over 5,000|
|Payout method||Check, PayPal, charity||Check, PayPal, gift card|
Signing up for either Ebates or BeFrugal is relatively straightforward. Joining is free. Each requires an email address. Should you choose to have your future earnings mailed to you, you’ll have to provide a mailing address as well.
Members must be at least 18 and can start accumulating money right away. At Ebates, new members get a $10 welcome bonus when they make minimum qualifying purchases totaling at least $25 within 90 days of becoming a member. At BeFrugal, new members get a $10 cash bonus once they earn $25 in cash back (excluding bonuses) if they sign up during a promotional period.
Earning cash back
Once you’ve made an account, it’s time to get to work. With each site, you shop as you normally would, but instead of navigating directly to a retailer’s website, you visit the cash-back site first. So you’d visit the Macy’s page on Ebates or BeFrugal, then click off to the Macy’s site to buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing.
Both cash-back sites also offer a browser extension and an app that can remind you to activate a cash-back offer at a participating retailer.
Ebates says it offers up to 40% cash back at over 2,000 stores, plus more than 10,000 coupons to stack as additional savings. BeFrugal promises up to 40% cash back at over 5,000 stores, plus thousands of coupons and deals.
Cash back offers vary and can change frequently, which means you could earn more or less at the same retailer, depending on when you buy. We compared percentages at a handful of popular stores to see which site would save you more; here are the results at the time of writing.
|Store||Cash-back percentage at Ebates (Jan. 10, 2017)||Cash-back percentage at BeFrugal (Jan. 10, 2017)|
|Bed Bath & Beyond||2%||8%|
Neither site had the highest cash-back percentage every time, so the better option will depend on which stores you shop at most frequently and when you buy.
Other ways to earn rewards
Both sites also allow you to rack up additional rewards for referring friends. At Ebates, you can earn $5 for every referral, plus possible additional bonuses for your first, second and third referrals in a quarter, depending on the site’s current offer. (The people you refer must sign up for Ebates during the referral period and make qualifying purchases totaling $25 or more, sometimes within a specified time.)
At BeFrugal, you’ll earn $15 for every friend you refer during the bonus program period. (Your friend must click on your unique Refer-a-Friend link, sign up as a member, confirm the account and earn $10 or more in cash back, not including bonuses, within 365 days of account creation.)
Referral bonus offers can change, so check Ebates and BeFrugal regularly.
After the shopping and referring comes the part you’ve been waiting for — receiving your earnings.
You may have to wait a little longer to see the fruits of your shopping at Ebates. Here, payouts are quarterly, so you’ll get your earnings once every three months. The website says the company offers three modes of receipt: a check, PayPal credit or a donation to a charity, organization or family member. You must earn a minimum of $5.01, excluding bonus rewards, to get paid in a given quarter.
At BeFrugal, you can put in a request for payment once you hit the minimum threshold for payout. The minimum is a confirmed cash-back balance of $25. The site says payments will be sent within 10 business days of your payment request. The options for payment here are a check, PayPal credit or gift card.
Start cashing in — but stay savvy
Ebates and BeFrugal offer many of the same features. Your choice will come down to where you shop and how frequently you’d like to get your cash. For a potentially quicker payout turnaround and a wider variety of retailers to shop at, BeFrugal is your best bet. But if you frequent certain stores where Ebates offers a higher cash-back percentage, that may be the better fit for you.
Before you start using either, here’s a friendly reminder: Cash-back shopping sites can be tempting. NerdWallet recommends using these sites when buying products you had planned to purchase anyway. Don’t shop just because of a cash-back offer.