Best cash-back services for 2022

Forget clipping coupons. There's a better way to save while you shop with cash-back services. Well, you're not exactly "saving" money -- you're earning it. It's one of the easiest ways to bring money back into your pocket and leave buyer's remorse at the front door.

But these services sound too good to be true, right? You get money back when you shop online at many, if not most, stores without strings attached? Yeah, right.

Yeah, right! These are the real deal, and in fact if you're not using a cash-back service every time you shop, you're leaving money on the table. And you can beef up those earnings by referring your friends, too. Here's everything you need to know about cash-back services and some popular ones you can choose from.


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Cash back 101

These services work like this: Suppose you're looking to replace your favorite running shoes, which happen to come from, for example, Nike. Normally you'd just go to Nike's site, choose your preferred pair and check out.

To score extra cash back (and I say "extra" because I'm assuming you're already using a cash-back rewards credit card), you simply detour to a cash-back service's site -- let's say Rakuten -- and then proceed to Nike via that site. Choose your shoes, check out like normal and you're done.

If you happened to do that at the time of this writing, you'd have scored a cash rebate of 8%. On a $100 pair of shoes, that means $8 back in your pocket. Not a fortune, but also not nothing. 

That's just one example. Cash-back rates vary from service to service, store to store and sometimes even week to week, but the end result is the same: extra money you wouldn't have saved otherwise. And just as the reward points you get from your credit card add up over time, so does this.

Speaking of extra money, some cash-back services offer a sign-up bonus, and you can often get referral bonuses for encouraging friends and family members to sign up as well. Right now, for example, Rakuten will give you $10 when you sign up and make a purchase of at least $25 within 90 days. You can also earn $30 for each person who signs up with your referral ID code (and spends at least $30). If you manage to sign up just one person per month, you'd make $360 over the course of a year. That's a pretty easy way to earn some cash.  

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What's the cash-back catch?

There must be a catch, right? You must be throwing open the gates on your privacy and agreeing to all kinds of spam, telemarketing and other evils. Otherwise, how do these services make money?

Here's how: Using the aforementioned example, when Rakuten sends you to Nike and you buy something, Rakuten earns a cut of that purchase -- and gives you a cut of that cut. This is called affiliate marketing, and it's extremely common on the interwebs these days. (Case in point: CNET may earn commission when you use our links to buy certain products and services.)

Now, is there also some tracking and data-gathering involved? No question. These sites use browser cookies to track your purchases, which is necessary to confirm those purchases and give you your rebate. (That's why it's important not to use an ad blocker while taking advantage of these services, as those tools can interfere with proper tracking.) Do cash-back services also aggregate and sell this data? If you peruse their terms-and-conditions and privacy policy pages, you'll see that most of them say they reserve the right to do so.

Here's my thinking: So what? There is so much tracking of your browsing and purchase activity already -- think Amazon, Facebook, Google -- who cares if Rakuten tells some marketing company you bought a Keurig at Target or a laptop from Lenovo?

I personally don't care. I'd just as soon save money, thanks. Obviously if you prefer to keep your online activities as private as possible, cash-back services may not be for you. I'll simply say that my use of them hasn't resulted in an increase in spam, junk mail, telemarketing calls or anything like that. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I have zero qualms about recommending these services.

What are the best cash-back services?

OK, but which ones? What qualifies as "best" in my book? I prize simplicity above all else. I don't want to have to jump through hoops like completing special offers, scanning receipts, watching videos or building a pyramid of friends. I just want to shop like I normally do and score cash rebates along the way.

Then there's longevity. There are lots of cash-back services out there; I look for those that have at least a few years under their belt. To me that satisfies the trustworthiness question: If a service hasn't been good to its users, chances are it won't be able to keep them. 

With that in mind, I've listed my favorites below. This is by no means a comprehensive list -- I definitely recommend looking into others as well.


App-based Dosh works a little differently: You link one or more credit or debit cards to it (all of them fully encrypted), then use the app to see what stores (including local and online ones) are offering cash-back deals. You might find anything from, say, 7% at your favorite local taco place to 5% at Sam's Club.

Then just use one of your linked cards at one of those places to score that extra cash back -- and I say "extra" because this works even if that same card is already giving you cash back. It's a double-dip!

I'll sometimes forget about Dosh and then get notified that I got a rebate from a restaurant or store, when I wasn't even expecting it. That feels gloriously like found money. Your payout options include direct deposit, PayPal and donating to charity.


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