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Primer on cash back programs: ShopAtHome and Ebates

I've finally gotten around to a long-overdue primer on cash back programs and how to put them to work for you.

 With almost zero effort, I've gotten hundred of dollars over the years at both ShopAtHome and Ebates, my two favorite cash back programs, and I want you to make the same kind of money. Here's how they both work.

Basically, when you want to shop online, you would first make sure you were logged into your accout at either ShopAtHome or Ebates and then,  instead of going directly to (for example) Target.com, you would search for the vendor page on either ShopAtHome.com or Ebates.com and click through their link first.  Clicking through their link lands you on the vendor site, in the case of our example, Target.com.  Then, depending on what the current rate of cash back is, you will get a certain percentage back on your purchase.  So you will get free cash for doing something you had already planned on doing, shopping. 

Let's continue with our example and work out the math.  So, as of this writing, the cash back rate for Target is both 3% on both ShopAtHome and Ebates.  Let's say you bought a $20 item with $2 shipping at Target, and you used a 20% promo code on your purchase and paid 5% tax. So your total purchase would be $20 minus $4 (the 20% discount) plus $2 (shipping fee) plus $0.90 (tax) = $18.90.  Now, your percentage of cash back on either ShopAtHome or Ebates is only on the price of the merchandise after all the promo codes and coupons, not on the shipping or tax.  So assuming you were 1) logged into your ShopAtHome or Ebates account and 2) clicked through either one of their links to Target.com first, you would get 3% of  <$20 minus $4> or 3% of $16 = $0.48.  Now, $0.48 might not seem worth the effort.  But if you make several purchases online over the course of the year, those $0.48 cash back transactions start to add up to real money.  Trust me on this...you will be pleasantly surprised.

This is what ShopAtHome and Ebates have in common.  Now here's a FAQ on the ways that they differ.

Q. When is that cash back check mailed out to me?
  • ShopAtHome will send you a check when your total cash back (not including sign-up bonuses or referral cash) equals at least $20. If your account has less than $20 in cash back at the close of a payment period, your balance amount rolls over into the next scheduled payment period. Your cash back is paid on a monthly basis, but two months after you earn it. So, for example, all cash back earned up to 1/31/11 (that has reached a threshold of $20 or more) will be paid on 3/31/11.
  • Ebates will send you a check when your cash back (not including sign-up bonuses or referral cash) equals at least $5.01. If your account has less than $5.01 in cash back at the close of a payment period your balance amount rolls over into the next scheduled payment period. Ebates pays quarterly (every three months) on the following schedule:
Purchases Posted BetweenBig Fat Check Sent
Jan 1-Mar 31May 15
Apr 1-June 30Aug 15
July 1-Sept 30Nov 15
Oct 1-Dec 31Feb 15

Q.  Is there a sign-up bonus for ShopAtHome and Ebates?  What do you get for referring friends to ShopAtHome and Ebates? 
Yes! Be aware, sign-up bonuses on both sites are subject to change.
  • As of this writing, the sign up bonus on ShopAtHome is $5 if you make a purchase through ShopAtHome (what they call a "qualified purchase") within 30 days of registering on the site.  If you are a member of ShopAtHome, you can refer friends via a unique referral url, and you get a $5 referral bonus if they purchase something through ShopAtHome within 30 days of registering.  You can make referrals through email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging or any form of social media.
  • As of this writing, the sign up bonus on Ebates is a $10 gift card at Barnes & Noble, Target, Home Depot, Magazines.com or $5 cash at Ebates.  You receive this bonus once you make a minimum $25 purchase through Ebates.  If you are a member of Ebates, you can refer friends via a unique referral url, and you get a $5 referral bonus once they make a $25 purchase through Ebates. You can make referrals through email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging or any form of social media.  Ebates is also currently offering a multi-referral bonus of $150 when you successfully refer 10 people, $300 when you successfully refer 20 people, $750 or an Ipad2 when you refer 50 people, and upwards from there.
Q. What if I want to use ShopAtHome, but I find a higher cash back rate on Ebates, or vice versa?  How do I find out what the highest cash back rates are?  
  • There is an excellent, highly useful website called CashBackWatch that gives you the current cash back rates for 46 cash back sites and nearly 15,000 online vendors.  (Keep in mind that many of the 46 cash back sites are obscure little unknown sites, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend using any of them until you've done a little vetting to see if they are for real or fly-by-night,  when they send out checks, etc.)
  • ShopAtHome guarantees their cash back rates with a 110% guarantee.  You can read the details here, but basically, if you find a higher cash back rate at a particular vendor on ShopAtHome, make the purchase through ShopAtHome and let them know that some other cash back program has a higher rate. They will check out the other program and if they agree that another program did beat their rate, they will match and exceed it by 10%. I have personally used the 110% guarantee, and can vouch that ShopAtHome is true to their word.
  • As of this writing, Ebates does not have a rate-matching program. If you hear differently, please let me know so that I can update this post.
Q. Do ShopAtHome and Ebates ever run events where they temporarily raise the cash back rates on specific vendors?
Yes!  And a great way to save money is to wait to make a purchase (especially a major purchase) until ShopAtHome or Ebates runs a "sale" on their cash back rate for the vendor in which you're interested.
  • ShopAtHome runs special, calendar-related "Events," like a Mother's Day Extra Cash Back Event or a Back to School Extra Cash Back Event, where they pump up the rates at particular online stores (and I  post about these Events all the time). In the first week of every month, they have a secret cash back page where you get extra-high rates if you click through the vendor links on that page.  They also have daily "Wild Deals" where they offer a special rate for a particular vendor for one day. 
  • Ebates also runs a Daily Double special each day, where they double the cash back rate at one vendor.  Like ShopAtHome, they also run weekly and seasonal extra cash back promotions for select groups of online stores.  
You can do very well and score a nice chunk of cash back by following these special deals at ShopAtHome or Ebates, or letting me follow them for you.

Q. Can I use any coupon or promo code when I make a purchase through ShopAtHome or Ebates?  Can I buy gift cards through ShopAtHome or Ebates?

You can use any coupon that is listed on the ShopAtHome or Ebates sites, or one that is listed on the vendor site itself.  If you use any other coupons, there is no guarantee that ShopAtHome or Ebates will honor the cash back. Just fyi, in my experience, I have used some very funky, obscure (though legitimate) coupons when purchasing through both sites, and I have never had a purchase turned down for cash back by either site.  This said, Caveat Emptor.

You can get cash back on a gift card only if it specifically says that you may on that particular vendor page.  Otherwise, assume that you can't (though it never hurts to try by clicking through). Also, if you pay for a purchase with a gift card or a store credit, you may not get cash back for that purchase, though, once again, I've done both and gotten cash back, so your experience may vary.  But these are the rules.

Q. Which cash back program do you prefer, ShopAtHome or Ebates?
A tricky question.  I've belonged to Ebates since 2007 and to ShopAtHome since 2009.  Both are very solid reputable companies.  ShopAtHome has a larger vendor list and usually has higher cash back rates than Ebates does. I've had great customer service experiences at both companies.  Since ShopAtHome is larger and has that 110% rate guarantee, I'll usually try them first.  Occasionally Ebates will carry a vendor that ShopAtHome does not (like NewEgg.com).  It's always good to have two programs...the more choices, the better.

Q. So should I join these cash back programs?  
Let me be very clear:   YES.

Here is a screenprint from my personal ShopAtHome account:
And a screenprint from my personal Ebates account:
I'm not posting these to brag (well, maybe just a little) but to show you how you well you can do if you use these sites religiously before you do any online shopping.  I earned over $700 for doing nothing that I hadn't already planned to do. These numbers don't include any special blogging bonuses or affiliate money.

I want you to join these programs because they will save you money.  Period.

You can join ShopAtHome by clicking here.  And you can join Ebates by clicking here.  Thank you for allowing me to refer you.  And please let me know how much money you've earned through these excellent cash back programs.  The only thing I love more than saving money is helping other people save money. Happy shopping saving.

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