Best Cash-Back Services

The saying goes that to make money you have to spend money. But no matter how green your pocketbook is, it’s wise to take advantage of ways to earn cash from the purchases you make, be it in-store or online. If you earn cash back on stuff you always buy, you’ll have money in your pocket that wouldn’t otherwise be there. That’s a win-win situation, any way you look at it. 

How cash-back services work

The best cash-back services offer an easy way to save when you shop. If you’re not using a cash-back service every time you shop, you’re leaving money on the table. You can also increase your earnings by referring friends. 

Cash-back services operate as either apps, websites or browser extensions. When you shop using these tools, retailers pay a commission to the services for bringing in new customers and helping retailers develop and maintain customer loyalty. You can retrieve your payouts when they reach a certain threshold.

Sign-up bonuses for cash-back services

Cash-back services pay a sign-up bonus to attract new customers. They also pay referral bonuses when you refer a friend who signs up and uses their services. Sign-up bonuses are a great way to generate additional income while introducing your friends and family to a useful service. Sign-up and referral bonuses for the services we reviewed range from $5 to $30 and don’t place limits on the amount you can earn.

Cash back 101

Suppose you’re looking to replace your favorite running shoes. You might, for example, visit Nike’s website, choose your preferred pair and check out.

To score extra cash back (and we say « extra » because we’re assuming you’re already using a cash-back rewards credit card), you simply detour to a service site such as Rakuten and then proceed to Nike via that site. Choose your shoes, check out and you’re done.

At the time of this writing, you’d have earned a cash rebate of 6%. On a $100 pair of shoes, that means $6 back in your pocket. Not a fortune, but every dollar helps.

Cash-back rates vary among different services and can change frequently, but the end result is the same: extra money you wouldn’t have saved otherwise. 

Speaking of extra money, some cash-back services offer a sign-up bonus. You’ll also receive referral bonuses for encouraging friends and family members to sign up. 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 above 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 web these days. (Case in point: CNET may earn a commission when you use our links to buy certain products and services.)

Now, is there also some tracking and data gathering involved? No question. In addition to the ubiquitous browser cookies that track your journeys online, the cash-back sites track your buying through their retail partners, which is necessary to confirm those purchases and give you your rebate. Indeed, most of these sites will require you to allow apps to track your iPhone, or not to use an ad blocker, while using these services, so these site-to-site handoffs can occur to enable the discounts. (Again, CNET — like most websites — also uses browser cookies. Check out our cookie policy and privacy terms for more info.)

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. In that regard, they’re not any different than the likes of online companies like Amazon, Facebook or Google. But you need to be comfortable with that trade-off — getting a discount in exchange for the cash-back service sharing with its partners that you bought a Keurig at Target or a laptop from Lenovo, for instance. 

If you prefer to keep your online activities as private as possible, cash-back services may not be for you.

(Note that CNET has its own browser extension called CNET Shopping — formerly known as PriceBlink — that highlights deals and coupons, and broadly competes with the services listed below. But as it doesn’t have a cash-back component, it wasn’t considered for inclusion.)

What are the best cash-back services?

Qualifying the « best » service is a bit subjective. We prize simplicity above all else. There’s no need to jump through hoops like completing special offers, scanning receipts, watching videos or building a pyramid of friends. The best services allow you to shop as you normally would and earn cash rebates along the way.

Then there’s longevity. There are lots of cash-back services out there; we look for those that have staying power. 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, our favorites are below. This is by no means a comprehensive list — but it’s a good starting point.

Best cash-back services

Name Sign up bonus Referral bonus Mobile app
BeFrugal $10 $10 Yes
Dosh $0 $10 Yes
Ibotta $5 $10 Yes
Mr. Rebates $0 20% of referral rebates Yes
PayPal Honey $0 500 points Yes
Rakuten $10 $30 Yes
Upromise $5.29 and $25 (when you link a 529 plan) $25 Yes

BeFrugal is similar to Rakuten. It partners with more than 5,000 retailers to provide cash-back opportunities. Sign in through the website or open the app and click on the « Shop Now » button or cash-back eligible coupon. You’ll be directed to the intended store. Any purchases made will earn cash-back rewards that accumulate in your account up to seven days after your purchase.

BeFrugal offers a cash-back rate guarantee. It will match 125% of the higher rate found on any competitor’s cash-back reward site. There’s a maximum credit of $25 per transaction and the guarantee is limited to one store per member. Claims must be submitted within 24 hours of your purchase. 

Your welcome bonus of $10 will appear in your account once you’ve earned at least $10 in cash-back rewards. Payout options include check, direct deposit, Venmo, PayPal or eGift cards. Checks can be requested for cash-back rewards of $25 or more. All other payout options can be requested for any amount over 1 cent.

  • Founded: 2009
  • Sign-up bonus: $10
  • Referral bonus: $10
  • Mobile app: Yes

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 7% at your favorite local taco place to 5% at Sam’s Club.

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

You may forget about Dosh and then get notified about a rebate from a restaurant or store. What a nice surprise. Your payout options include direct deposit, PayPal and donating to charity once your account balance exceeds $15.

  • Founded: 2017
  • Sign-up bonus: $0
  • Referral bonus: $10
  • Mobile app: Yes

Another staple in the cash-back arena is Ibotta, servicing 40 million users since 2012. It partners with 2,700 brands and retailers such as Home Depot and Gap, allowing you to earn cash-back rewards on everyday purchases such as groceries, clothing and pet products. You can access retail offers when you shop online, with the app or while shopping in the store. 

The referral bonus is one of the smallest at $5 for new users. The bonus will be deposited once you’ve earned $15 in cash-back rewards and can take up to 90 days to be deposited in your cash-back account.

You can withdraw your earnings once you’ve accumulated $20 or more in cash-back rewards. Rewards can be withdrawn via direct deposit, PayPal or gift cards.

  • Founded: 2012
  • Sign-up bonus: $5
  • Referral bonus: $10
  • Mobile app: Yes

Mr. Rebates can be a little off-putting at first thanks to its cartoonish logo. However, the service has competitive rates and, for the avid referrer, one of the most potentially profitable options anywhere. 

Instead of earning a flat rate for each person you refer, you earn an ongoing percentage of their rebates. Build up a large enough network of active shoppers and you could really start to enjoy some extra cash.

Beyond that, Mr. Rebates compares favorably with the likes of Rakuten, with tools like a browser plug-in and mobile apps. You can redeem your payout via gift card, PayPal or check, though you do have to wait 90 days to take your payout. The referral option alone makes it worth a look.

  • Founded: 2002
  • Sign-up bonus: $0
  • Referral bonus: 20% of referrals’ rebates
  • Mobile app: Yes

PayPal Honey does more than give you cash back. It started out as an online coupon finder, a browser plug-in that looks up codes for you at checkout. Currently, it also provides product price histories at stores like Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart. That means you can easily determine if something has been on sale for less than the current price and create an alert to get notified when there’s a price drop.

PayPal Honey’s cash-back component, the PayPal Rewards Program, works by allowing you to accumulate points at thousands of stores. With the browser extension installed or using the app, shop at your desired stores. You’ll see a range of points available, then find out after the purchase how it ended up. It might turn out to be higher than you could get elsewhere, or it might end up lower. Reward points accumulate in your account. Points can be redeemed for cash, PayPal shopping credit or gift cards. You may be required to pay for the purchase using your PayPal account to earn points.

  • Founded: 2012
  • Sign-up bonus: $0
  • Referral bonus: 500 points
  • Mobile app: Yes

The great-granddaddy of the best cash-back services, Rakuten (formerly known as Ebates) is a CNET favorite. Although its rates aren’t always the highest, it offers some key benefits: shopping via mobile app, in-store and restaurant rebates in addition to online. At the time of this writing, each person who signs up using your referral link and spends at least $30 will receive a $30 bonus, too.

Rakuten’s browser plug-in is a plus as it immediately alerts you when cash-back savings are available and also gives you an at-a-glance account overview. It saves you from having to detour to the Rakuten site when activating purchase tracking. It sometimes finds coupon codes for you as well.

You’ll have to be patient, though: Rakuten pays out quarterly. You only have two payment options — mailed check and PayPal. Those minor quibbles aside, this is a great option for anyone new to cash-back services.

  • Founded: 1998
  • Sign-up bonus: $10
  • Referral bonus: $30
  • Mobile app: Yes

Upromise has used cash-back rewards to help families save $1 billion in college savings since 2000. By partnering with major retailers, local restaurants and other businesses, Upromise helps fund a child’s college education by directing cash-back rewards to 529 college savings accounts.

You’ll receive a $5.29 sign-up bonus for creating a Upromise account. Once you link an existing 529 account, Upromise will pay an additional $25 bonus. Rewards and bonuses can be deposited monthly into your linked 529 account. 

In addition to earning cash-back rewards on everyday purchases, Upromise also connects rewards to qualifying purchases on the Upromise Mastercard.

  • Founded: 2000
  • Sign-up bonus: $5.29 and $25 when you link a 529 college savings account
  • Referral bonus: $25
  • Mobile app: Yes

Who should sign up for cash-back services?

These services are tools to help cost-conscious shoppers keep more of their cash. They provide an easy way to save money on purchases you make. These sites are great for those who shop online, at retailers associated with the cash-back service and for shoppers who don’t mind the inconvenience of adding extra steps to their shopping experience. 

Cash-back tools generally require you to make a purchase through an app, while signed into a store’s website or with the browser extension installed so that your purchases can be tracked. 

What to consider before signing up

Cash-back services are extremely useful. They’re often easy to set up and work seamlessly once you’re familiar with the process. However, there are issues to consider when using these services.

  • Annual fees: Some services take an annual fee out of the savings, which can minimize the overall benefit of using the service.
  • Fake or scam sites: Sticking with well-known services is the best way to avoid fake sites that will use your personal information for nefarious purposes.
  • High payout thresholds: Some cash-back sites set the thresholds so high that, unless you shop consistently through the service or buy big-ticket items, receiving your payout can take six months or more to receive. 
  • Confused cookies: Using multiple cash-back services can confuse the cookies used to track your purchases and that can delay your payouts if rewards are applied to the wrong service.
  • Better deals elsewhere: Retailers using coupons or direct-to-retailer discounts may offer better prices than going through a third-party cash-back service.

How to best use a cash-back service

There are two ways to approach using a cash-back service to make the most of your efforts. One approach is to use it for every purchase, no matter how small. Small purchases run through a third-party service will add up when used consistently. The other approach is to use it mainly for more purchases that add up to larger values, such as Christmas shopping or buying a big-screen television. Do you want to jump through hoops for a 13-cent rebate or for a rebate that adds up to a significant amount of money?


Do cash-back service sites work?

Yes, they offer a simple way to consistently save money on your purchases. The benefit is greatest when you use the site to collect rewards on items you’d normally purchase and check to ensure the prices with the cash-back rewards are better than using alternatives such as coupons.

How do cash-back service sites make money?

They receive a commission from retailers to attract customers through sign-up and referral bonuses. Retailers pay because the cost of customer acquisition is worth it to develop customer loyalty. Cash-back services split their revenue with users in the form of rewards to retain your business and hope that you’ll tell your friends and family about the savings you enjoy.

Can you use cash-back services on mobile devices?

Yes. All sites listed in our product review above have a mobile app. 

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

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