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Earn discounts and savings just to shop online may sound too good to be true. But cashback websites like Rakuten, BeFrugal, Swagbucks, Ibotta, and Mr. Rebates can actually work. And as long as you browse them for the purchases you need to make anyway, using these sites can be more lucrative than buying with a rewards credit card.

Rakuten is one of the largest and most commonly used cashback sites. For many years the company was known as Ebates. However, after Rakuten acquired Ebates in 2014, it decided to officially change its name in 2019.

The original Ebates was founded in 1999, and the site has over 10 million users and has paid out over $ 1 billion in cashback rewards. And many personal finance bloggers have told HuffPost that they feel it offers the best deals compared to other similar sites.

Kate Horrell, a personal financial educator for military families, began to use Rakuten almost 20 years ago. At the time, she had a new baby and was on a tight budget, and the retailers were offering huge discounts on the site. “It was a good way to get some of these things we needed at really low prices,” she said.

Horrell has received a total of $ 2,355.93 in rebates since signing up, according to a screenshot of her account that she shared with HuffPost.

Marc Andre, personal finance blogger at VitalDollar.com, is also a regular user of Rakuten. “Just a few days ago I made a purchase for $ 50 and [Rakuten] saved me $ 10, ”he told HuffPost. “All I had to do to get that $ 10 was click once on the browser alert to activate [Rakuten], and click a second time to leave [Rakuten] try the promo code he suggested. I didn’t even know this site was participating with [Rakuten], so without the browser extension, I would have paid $ 10 more for the same purchase. “

Is Rakuten a scam?

Some people wonder if sites like Rakuten are a scam. How can they pay for all this money? According to Chelsea Hudson, public relations manager at TopCashback, Rakuten’s competitor, the misconception happens in large part because people don’t understand how these types of companies make money.

Hudson said the cashback sites work with affiliate networks that represent online retailers. Cashback sites receive a negotiated percentage of the purchase price to refer new consumers. Part of this reduction goes to the buyer and the site keeps the rest.

“When users make a purchase through a cashback site, the site places a cookie to track your activity,” said Hudson, noting that cookies are simple text files that store information such as the site name and an identifier. single user. “Cashback sites use cookies to remember the link you used to access the retailer’s site from the cashback site. This is vital for your cashback journey; without a cookie, the cashback site and the affiliate network cannot confirm your purchase or sponsorship. “

However, Hudson said once the retailer confirms the referral was made through a refund site, it may take several additional weeks to receive the money from the network. “Refund process speeds vary from retailer to retailer,” she said. “For example, a large online retailer like Walmart has a faster checkout speed than a travel merchant because the majority of travel merchants give cash back after your stay.”

In fact, refund sites can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to pay their member rewards, due to the affiliate networks purchase confirmation process. This may sound like a red flag to members who assume they will get paid instantly.

“The main complaint made by users of popular cashback sites … is ‘I never received my cashback’,” she said.

How Rakuten Works

You can sign up for Rakuten using your email address, Google or Facebook account. The easiest way to use Rakuten is to shop online, but it is also possible to earn rewards in-store.

There are several ways to save money while shopping online with Rakuten. The first is to search Rakuten.com for a product among all the participating retailers on the site and find the best money back offer. Once you’ve done that, click on the retailer’s site and proceed with your purchase as you normally would.

The second is to use the Rakuten browser extension for Chromium or Firefox. If you are on the website of a retailer that offers cash back, the extension will display a button notifying you.

To test it out, I headed over to Target.com. Immediately the Rakuten extension started flashing to inform me that an offer was available. When I clicked on the extension icon, there was a drop-down that said I could activate up to 1% cash back with the exception of a few categories. By clicking on the red button, the refund offer would be automatically applied to my purchases through the site.

This is how Ebates / Rakuten and other cashback sites really work

The Rakuten browser extension informs target buyers that they can earn 1% back.

Finally, you can enjoy Rakuten through online search results when the extension is enabled. For example, when I Google for “coffee mugs,” Rakuten listed the cash back opportunities directly in the search results. I could then click on the retailer’s website and activate the cashback offer to secure it.

In addition to earning cash back rewards, Rakuten also finds coupons and promo codes online that you can try for additional discounts. This functionality is similar to tools such as Darling and Wikibuy, which might do a better job of aggregating these types of transactions. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to have another tool scouring the web for additional deals.

Rakuten will pay our cash back every three months as long as your balance is at least $ 5. You can choose to be paid by check or PayPal.

Cashback sites have some drawbacks

While Rakuten is not a scam, there are some drawbacks to the service that you should be aware of before signing up:

  • Confidentiality concerns: While you don’t need to use a Facebook account to log into Rakuten, it’s an option. However, you might find Facebook’s platform too invasive when it comes to collecting and sharing data. Also, as Hudson mentioned, refund sites like Rakuten must use tracking cookies to work, which track your online activity.

  • Unpredictable rewards: Another somewhat annoying feature of Rakuten and similar sites is that the money back offers can vary from day to day. That means you could make a purchase today that gets you 2% cash back, only to find a week later that you can make the same purchase with 5% cash back. If you can wait a bit and strive for the highest rewards, using Rakuten is worth it. But if you have to buy it now, you might run out of savings.

  • Some products are not eligible: You might also be disappointed to find that while Rakuten does offer lucrative cashback on a certain site, not all products are necessarily eligible. Take Target for example above – although the site offered 1% off, those rewards did not apply to items like electronics, toys, or books.

  • Time between purchase and payment: As Hudson also mentioned, one of the biggest complaints about Rakuten and other cashback sites is the time it takes to get money. With Rakuten, you can expect a check up to four times a year – and only if you’ve racked up at least $ 5 – so you can’t really count on consistent income using it.

How to maximize your savings

Using the cash back sites alone can earn you some very valuable rewards. But if you want to increase those savings, there are a few best practices and tips you can use.

Enable cookies. Since tracking cookies are necessary for refund sites to work, you need to make sure that you are being tracked correctly. Hudson said you should clear your cookies before using a refund site to make sure all previous visits to a retailer are cleared from your history and then make sure cookies are turned on. “Don’t open any extra tabs and stray from the trip by browsing other sites,” she said. Also make sure to turn off any ad blockers or firewalls that might prevent cookies from working.

Check out the competitors. Ben luthi, a writer on money and travel, said if you really want to maximize your return, you should check out Cashback monitor first. “It has just about every cashback website, points and miles portal and more,” he said. All you have to do is enter the online retailer in the search bar and you will get the current refund rate among all the companies so you can choose the best deal. In fact, Luthi said he enjoys using Rakuten on occasion, but personally prefers the deals he finds on TopCashback and Swagbucks.

Add the browser extension. Luthi also said it’s important to add the Chrome or Firefox extension to your browser, which will give you a pop-up if you’re on a website with a deal. It will also show refund opportunities in Google search results. “I’m a lazy online shopper, and that takes the step of going to the cashback website and clicking the retailer from there,” Luthi said.

Stack it with other rewards. “What I really like [Rakuten] is that you can combine it with other cash back and rewards, ”Andre said. By stack some levels of rewards, you will save even more. For example, André will buy discounted gift cards at Raise.com.

“I could pay $ 45 for a $ 50 restaurant gift card at Raise – a 10% savings,” he says. Then Rakuten will offer an additional 1% cash back for purchases at Raise.

“And if I buy with my Citi Double Cash credit card, I’ll get another 2% cash back,” Andre added. In this scenario, he earns a total of 13% cash back. Not too bad.

This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Ebates changed its name to Rakuten.

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