If there’s one website that I’ve seen come across again and again since I’ve taken an interest in personal finance matters, it’s Ebates. As Mint is to budgeting apps, Ebates is to cash back sites, as it seems to be the largest of its kind by far, boasting deals from more than 2,500 retailers. Naturally I had to find out what all the fuss was about, leading me to sign up for the site just a few months ago.
In that time, I’ve made a handful of purchases that have resulted in a few dollars here and there, but I hadn’t really gotten the full Ebates experience until now. Earlier this week I realized I needed to order some business cards ahead of my first trip to FinCon. Within seconds of arriving at Vistaprint, I was greeted by a pop-up button asking if I wanted to activate Ebates cash back on my purchase. Obviously that sounded like a great idea, so I opted in and was able to earn an extra dollar back from my purchase. OK, that’s probably nothing to write home about but it did at least remind me to write a proper review of Ebates at long last.
So, with that, here’s what you need to know about Ebates and how it could save you money when shopping online:
How Ebates Works
Ebates site and the browser extension
There are two main ways you can find cash back offers with Ebates: searching their site for deals ahead of time or installing the Ebates browser extension, which will make it easy to opt-into offers as you shop around the web. Personally I actually like to use a combination of the two. For example, if I know several retailers that will carry the item I’m looking to buy, I might check Ebates ahead of time to see where I should start my search. Meanwhile there are also times where I get the pleasant surprise of landing on a site and having the Chrome extension alert me to a deal (like with my business card experience). In either case, you’ll want to ensure that you either click the link on the Ebates page to visit the site in question or activate the offer using the extension before making your purchase.
Not only does the browser extension pop-up when you reach an applicable site but it will also help you find Ebates deals when using Google. If you search for a product or service and you have your Ebates extension on, your search results will display little ‘E’ logos above the participating sites and even show you what the cashback offer is for each listing. This could be a huge timesaver if you’re choosing a retailer based on Ebates value alone — however, in some cases, you may still want to ensure that the pricing of the actual item is comparable, lest you overspend on the purchase itself just to earn cash back.
Even when it’s not alerting you to deal, the Ebates extension can still come in handy. Clicking on the logo will pop-up various at-a-glance info such as your current Ebates balance, recently visited sites, featured offers, and more. It also gives you easy access to your Ebates referral code, which we’ll talk about a little later.
Finding additional coupons and codes
Besides the cash back offers, both the Ebates site and browser extension also list current promotional codes a la Retail Me Not and other such sites. To view these from the extension, just click the ‘E’ when it has an orange background. Alternatively, once again you can search the Ebates site for the specific retailer and view their coupon offers there.
Earning your Ebates welcome bonus
When you first sign-up for Ebates, you’ll have the choice between claiming a $10 gift card for Walmart or adding $10 to you Ebates balance. Now, while the Ebates homepage declares “Sign Up and Get a $10 Bonus Today*,” the telling asterisk tips you off to the fact that it’s not quite that simple. In order to nab that $10 bonus, you’ll need to make at least $25 in qualifying purchases within your first 90 days of becoming an Ebates user. In my case, I elected to receive the $10 Walmart gift card as my bonus, which I was able to easily add to my Walmart Pay account (note: this isn’t required for redemption but I just like using it) and was able to spend my free money without issue.
Not only can you earn $10 when you sign up for Ebates but you can also nab $25 by referring friends, family, and others to the service. As an Ebates member, you’ll be provided with a special referral link you can e-mail to friends, share on social media, or — for example — include in an article. When those you refer sign up for the service and earn their welcome bonus (meaning they spend at least $25 in their first 90 days), you’ll earn a $25 bonus. This current promotion is running through September 30th, 2018 so it is subject to change after that.
Like I mentioned, your unique referral link can be found by clicking the Ebates browser extension button and heading to the “Get $25” tab. Similarly there’s also a “Refer & Earn $25” link in the main navigation bar of Ebates’ site. This section of the site will also let you keep tabs on who you’ve invited to join, who’s joined, and who’s made their qualifying purchase. As a result, you can monitor your referral progress and perhaps even nudge your friends along if need be. 😉
How Often Does Ebates Payout?
Ebates refers to their cash back payouts as “Your Big Fat Check.” Contrary to what that name implies, you don’t actually have to opt for a check, but can instead have your balance sent to you via PayPal if you’d like. However, in order to cash out, you’ll need have at least $5 in cash back to claim. Furthermore Ebates only sends out “Big Fat Checks” on a quarterly basis.
Here’s a look at their payment schedule via their help page:
|Jan 1 – Mar 31||May 15|
|Apr 1 – Jun 30||Aug 15|
|Jul 1 – Sep 30||Nov 15|
|Oct 1 – Dec 31||Feb 15|
Thankfully, if you don’t end up earning $5 in a quarter, your money won’t disappear — it’ll just roll over to the next quarter, giving you another shot at making enough to cash out.
What Else You Should Know About Ebates
Different sites may have different restrictions and exceptions
As you’re browsing the Ebates site, you may notice that some retailers list a flat cash back amount while other say “Up to X%.” Why the difference? Well, some participating sites may apply different cash back amounts depending on the category while others might exclude certain items altogether. For example you might see that Apple.com offers up to 2% cashback — although, upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that this offer excludes a massive list of products you’d likely be buying from Apple. As a result, I have a hilarious line in my Ebates balance history that shows me making a $1,618 purchase and earning a whopping $0.38 back (the laptop I purchased was excluded from the deal but the $19 dongle I bought with it did qualify). While that may be frustrating, it is actually nice that Ebates is able to apply cash back to some items in a transaction even if the bulk of your order doesn’t qualify.
Credit card rewards
Something else you should know about Ebates is that any cash back you earn using the service comes in addition to anything you might earn from your credit card rewards. As a result, in addition to the 3% back I earned from using Ebates to purchase my business cards, I also earned 2% from my Uber Visa Card. This might seem obvious to some but it’s still worth mentioning for those who might not realize how these two potential benefits work together.
Tax and shipping
If you go into your Ebates balance and view your transaction history, you may be wondering why the total amount doesn’t quite match what you actually paid. That’s because Ebates cash back offers typically do not apply to any taxes collected or shipping costs. So, if you’re trying to compare your receipt to Ebates, make sure you’re looking at the subtotal before these additional charges are applied.
While the vast majority of Ebates deals are for online retailers, they do also have some in-store offers that can be found on their mobile app. Like with Dosh and others, you can take advantage of these offers by linking a credit card and using it at a participating location. However, unlike Dosh, it seems you’ll need to activate each offer before attempting to redeem it. In other cases — namely the 1% cash back at Best Buy offer — you’ll instead tap the “Redeem Code” button, which will launch a QR for the cashier to scan at checkout.
Admittedly, this one aspect of Ebates I have yet to try out for myself. At first glance the process of utilizing these deals feels a bit clunkier than Dosh, although the roster of retailers also seems significantly larger. Ultimately I’ll have to go give it a shot and update this review with my findings.
Final Thoughts on Ebates
After trying out Ebates over the past few months, I can see why the service has become so popular. In turn, this popularity has also allowed it to improve its product by adding retailers, upping its offers, and still dishing out bonuses to new users and those that refer them. With a convenient browser extension that not only leads you to deals but reminds you about them, it’s also easy to take advantage of Ebates offers without having to make much of an effort.
If there’s any real downside to Ebates it’s simply that you will have to wait for your money, unlike other cash back apps that allow you to cash out as soon as you reach a certain threshold. Then again, such restrictions are understandable since any returns made on items that resulted in cashback would negatively impact Ebates if they had already paid out on those earnings. Additionally, looking on the bright side, this arrangement does give users something to look forward to.
Ultimately, it’s hard for me to come up with a reason why you shouldn’t at least sign-up for Ebates. Even as someone who doesn’t shop online with super frequency, I’ve still been able to earn my $10 welcome bonus and am on my way to reaching that $5 threshold for my next payout. Of course, even if you don’t rack up much, it’s also nice to know you can leave it sitting there in waiting until you do earn enough to get your “Big Fat Check.”
For all of those reasons, I recommend checking out what Ebates has to offer and seeing if this cash back-earning service is right for you.