In the immortal words of my mother, "Buying anything at full price is crazy…just CRAZY." Preach it, Mom. Today's wealth of cash back rebate websites makes full-price purchases look even crazier. In this post, we take a look at four of the top-rated cash back programs. The goal here is not to rank one over the others but to help you choose the very best rebate/cash back program for you. Happy (discounted, cash back) shopping!

How you earn cash back from shopping online 

First, if you are new to shopping online at "cash back" websites, you might be curious about how these websites can afford to pay you to shop with them—I know I was! The concept is simple: the cash back website negotiates a specific cash back rate with each retailer in their database. When a purchase is made, the cash back site keeps a portion and passes a portion on to you, the consumer.

Example:

  • XYZ cash back website negotiates a 15% cash back rate with Office Depot.
  • You earn 10% cash back for every purchase made by clicking through XYZ.
  • You buy something for $50 by clicking through from XYZ to OfficeDepot.com.
  • You accrue $5 cash back into your XYZ account (Office Depot accrues the remaining 5%).

Tips for choosing a cash back site

These sites are all excellent—highly rated, stable, growing, glowingly reviewed by industry and users alike. If you have the time, it can be worthwhile to sign up for each of these websites and install a price comparison tool (such as the Price Comparison Bookmarklet from CNET) to locate the best cash back deals on items you want to buy.

If you don't have time to price compare between the sites, look at the following (in this order) to make your decision.

  • Cash back percentage: for your preferred online retailers
  • Time to payout: no restrictions is best
  • Additional earnings: free cash back and refer-a-friend programs
  • Minimum payout: no minimum is best
  • App(s): if a mobile shopping option is a priority
  • Reviews: a few credible reviews are listed with each site review for extra guidance

Note: With each site reviewed here, I have also included a comparison of the cash back you receive by shopping with a single retailer—in this case, Walmart.

1. Top Cashback

Relatively speaking, Top Cashback is the "newcomer" on the scene but is outperforming many of its more established competitors with the sheer cash back value its unique strategy provides.

  • Founded: 2005
  • Website: http://www.topcashback.com
  • App(s): Android app (free)
  • Number of merchants: 3,200+
  • Major retailers included: Yes (ex: Best Buy, Walmart, Staples, Amazon)
  • Signup bonus: n/a
  • Percentage cash back: Varies by merchant (range: 1% – 70%)
  • Payment type(s): PayPal, direct deposit
  • Minimum payout: no minimum
  • Payment date: upon request (no restrictions)
  • Wait period before accrued cash back is eligible for withdrawal: n/a
  • Referral program: Yes; you earn $10 for each friend you refer.
  • How it works: Top Cashback works differently than the other three sites listed here. This website passes through the entire negotiated cash back amount to its consumers (so, from the example above, with Top Cashback you would get the whole 15% in cash back from your $50 purchase = $7.50).
  • BONUS: You can also earn "free" cash back by completing short surveys, requesting free products, or signing up for free trials – no purchase necessary.

Example: Walmart—offers 4% cash back (here, you see the incentive to use Top Cashback—you earn both the retailer's share (2%) and the consumer's share (2%) = 4% total.

2. Ebates (+Extrabux) 

Note: I was planning to review Extrabux for this post, and then I discovered that, as of March 2014, Ebates had purchased Extrabux! It is not yet clear whether the two sites will merge (with Extrabux account balances transferred to Ebates) so only Ebates is reviewed here.

  • Founded: 1998
  • Website: https://www.ebates.com
  • App(s): For iOS and Android – http://www.ebates.com/mobile.htm
  • Number of merchants: 1,700+
  • Major retailers included: Yes (ex: Amazon, Best Buy, Old Navy, Office Max, Walmart)
  • Signup bonus: $5 – $10 gift card of your choice

  • Percentage cash back: Varies by merchant (range: 1% – 30%)
  • Payment type(s): PayPal, check
  • Minimum payout: $5.01
  • Payment date: every 45 days
  • Referral program: Yes; you get $5/friend you refer plus a $40 bonus when two friends make a purchase through Ebates
  • How it works: The Ebates program is simple. In addition to daily cash back deals, you can also shop the "Daily Double" to get double cash back on purchases from select merchants. The site also offers special holiday deals and promotions. When shopping, you can earn cash back ("rebates") or outright cash. Where available you can also redeem coupons in-site for extra savings.
  • Reviews: Read these reviews for more information about Ebates.

Example: Walmart – offers 2% cash back.

3. Mr. Rebates

Mr. Rebates holds an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)—not an easy feat to maintain. The site has also earned kudos for offering the highest cash back percentage, merchant to merchant, for many of the merchants that it has partnered with.

  • Founded: 2002
  • Website: http://mrrebates.com
  • App(s): No app, but the mobile site is optimized for any smart device
  • Number of merchants: 2,000+
  • Major retailers included: Yes (ex: Walmart, Amazon, Sears, Target, Travelocity, Dell)
  • Signup bonus: $7.50
  • Percentage cash back: Varies by merchant (range: 0.5% – 25%)
  • Payment type(s): PayPal, check
  • Mininum payout: $10
  • Payment date: 1st of each month for previous months' requests
  • Wait period before accrued cash back is eligible for withdrawal: 90 days
  • Referral program: Yes; you get 20% cash back on the rebate referred friends earn.
  • How it works: You earn either a percentage of cash back ("rebate") or outright cash when you click through Mr. Rebates to make a purchase. You can also redeem Mr. Rebates coupons for extra savings with select merchants and take advantage of special weeks (like “Pets Week”) when cash back and savings both increase.

Example: Walmart – offers 2% cash back.

4. Fat Wallet

Fat Wallet gets consistent rave reviews across the board—including from the likes of Daily Finance, CNN, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others.

Note: While it continues to operate as a seemingly separate entity online, Fat Wallet is actually also a part of the growing Ebates.com online cash back shopping empire!

  • Founded: 2002
  • Website: http://www.fatwallet.com
  • App(s): Fat Wallet has a special app for Black Friday shopping only
  • Number of merchants: 1,500+
  • Major retailers included: Yes (ex: K-mart, Expedia, Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot)
  • Signup bonus: n/a
  • Percentage cash back: Varies by merchant (range: 15 – 28%)
  • Payment type(s): PayPal, check
  • Minimum payout: $0 for PayPal; $10 for check
  • Payment date: Weekly
  • Wait period before accrued cash back is eligible for withdrawal: 90 days
  • Referral program: Yes; earn $20 when you refer two friends
  • How it works: Fat Wallet has won award after award and continuously ranks in the top 1,000 websites worldwide. The concept is simple; you shop by logging in to Fat Wallet and clicking through to any merchant to redeem cash back on your purchase. Where applicable, you can also apply coupons for extra discounts and get cash back even on special sales items.

Example: Walmart – offers 2% cash back.