We Reveal Our 5 Favorite Cash-Back Apps — Plus Tips to Optimize Earnings

A stack of cash sits on a table with reading glasses.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder
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For years, coupons have been Americans’ favorite way to save money, but we get it: Sometimes you just don’t have time to scour weekly ads and carefully cut (or, ahem, rip) out each deal.

Luckily, we have cash-back apps and websites these days, which allow you to make money back on in-store and/or online purchases. No need to print out coupons or keep binders of store ads — you just need your phone or computer.

But with so many cash-back options on the market, it can be difficult to find apps that specifically cater to your shopping needs. That’s why we rounded up eight of our favorites to help you get started.

Before we get to the list, though, let’s review what cash-back apps are and how they work.

What are Cash-Back Apps, and How Do They Work?

Although coupons and cash-back apps are both great ways to save money, they work a little differently. With coupons, you save money before you checkout. With cash-back apps, you earn cash rewards (either cash, a check or gift cards) after you make a purchase — like a rebate.

Some of these shopping apps allow you to earn cash back in stores, and others allow you to earn cash back online. Some, like Ibotta and Shopkick, offer both.

If you’re shopping in-store, here’s how these apps generally work:

  • Download the app, and create an account.
  • Find where you’re shopping, and see what cash-back offers you find.
  • After you checkout, claim your cash-back rewards by taking a picture of your receipt and/or scanning items’ barcodes.

If you’re using an app that offers online cash-back deals, it’s even easier. Just open the app or web browser, choose your go-to retailer and shop its site through the portal.

Now, you might be wondering how these apps can just hand out cash. Retailers and brands typically offer a referral commission to these apps, so each time you purchase a product, the app gets a portion of the money. Then, the app passes part of that commission over to you.

Now that you understand how these money-saving tools work, we’ll showcase our favorites.

The 6 Best Cash-Back Apps and Sites of 2020

You might feel a little overwhelmed with options. That’s normal.

Here’s what we suggest: Sign up for one or two of these apps. Use them for a couple of weeks and see how much extra cash you earn. If you find they’re not suiting your normal shopping habits, then explore another option.

The best cash-back app for you will depend on your spending habits. But we’re here to give you all the information you need to make the best decision.

1. Ibotta

A man shops at Whole Foods in downtown Atlanta. Atlanta GA.
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

If you find yourself grocery shopping every other day, you’ll want Ibotta in your back pocket. Download the app, claim cash-back offers and take a photo of your receipt. It pairs with a number of major grocery stores and chains, including CVS, Kroger, Publix, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart.

Pros: The Ibotta app is easy to get the hang of. Plus, you can find cash-back offers for “any item” and “any brand,” which allows for more earning opportunities. It’s also more than a grocery app; you can earn cash back from online stores, too.

Cons: Like other cash-back apps, it’s easy to get wrapped up into buying the promoted products that offer you more money back — but aren’t necessarily a great deal. (Read more about cash-back best practices below.)

Payment method: Once you create an Ibotta account and earn $20, cash out via PayPal, Venmo or gift cards to popular retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart.

Available via iOS and Android.

Sign-up bonus: Snag a $5 sign-up bonus after upload your first receipt to the Ibotta app.

2. Shopkick

A cell phone with the Shopkick app.
Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Shopkick differs from the other apps on this list in that you don’t have to make a single purchase to start earning points (or kicks). Just walk into stores and scan items’ barcodes. Of course, you’ll earn more points when you make purchases with a connected card (online or in store) or snap photos of qualifying receipts.

Pros: Because you can earn points just for walking into stores and scanning items’ barcodes (some users say it’s fun — like a scavenger hunt), you won’t be tempted to overspend with the Shopkick app. You can also earn kicks when online shopping.

Cons: There are so many different ways to earn points, it can take a couple of weeks to get in the habit of using Shopkick when you’re running errands.

Payment method: Exchange points for gift cards to popular retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart. With 500 kicks, you can snag a $2 gift card.

Available via iOS and Android.

3. Fetch Rewards

We’ll just say it: The Fetch Rewards app is best for lazy savers. Or maybe you’re so busy you can’t even plan your next shopping trip; you just squeeze them in when you have five minutes. With Fetch, you’ll earn rewards when you simply take a photo of your receipt — any receipt from any grocery store.

Pros: Fetch is super easy to use. There’s no scanning barcodes or hunting down specific brands (unless you want bonus points). You can take a photo of literally any receipt from a grocery, convenience or club store.

Cons: You have to snap a photo of your receipt within 14 days of purchase, so don’t forget to do so! You’ll basically be throwing away free gift cards if you don’t.

Payment method: Earn as few as 3,000 points (you can get 1,000 for an eight-pack of toilet paper), then cash out for a gift card to a number of retailers, including Amazon, Panera Bread, Target and Walmart.

Available via iOS and Android.

Sign-up bonus: Enter code PENNY to earn 2,000 free points after scanning your first receipt.

4. Checkout 51

If you’re not a store loyalist and just shop wherever is most convenient, Checkout 51 is a great cash-back option. Redeem the app’s cash-back deals for specific products from any retailer (unless the offer specifies otherwise).

Pros: If you prefer to do your shopping online, Checkout 51 makes it easy to earn there, too. Just claim your offers by snapping a photo of your packing slip. No need to shop through a portal.

Cons: Checkout 51 updates its offers each Thursday. This is great if you’re looking for new deals — not so much if you’re slow to get to the store. Additionally, the app tends to focus on name-brand items, so don’t forget to compare prices. Generic or store brands might be more affordable even without a rebate.

Payment method: Earn $20 back, and cash out for a check in the mail.

Available via iOS and Android.

5. Saving Star

Detail of a $20 bill.
Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re a store loyalist, the Saving Star app might be your perfect match. Depending on where you shop with your store loyalty card, you can connect it to earn automatic rebates.

Pros: If you frequent CVS, Dollar General, Safeway or Winn-Dixie (to name a few), all you have to do is scan your store card to link and activate your rebates. Then you’re done! Saving Star takes care of the rest. Otherwise, just scan receipts to claim your rebates.

Cons: Some offers we saw require you to buy in bulk, which isn’t always convenient. For example, spend $25 on Tidy Cat products to get a $5 rebate. (That’s a lot of litter to haul.) You also can’t categorize offers (by food, household items, etc.), so you’ll spend some time scrolling through offers.

Payment method: Once you collect $20, transfer the money to your bank account, or cash out via PayPal. You can also choose to donate your earnings to charity.

Available via desktop, iOS and Android.

Pro Tips To Maximize Your Cash-Back Rewards

So now you know: Cash-back apps are a great way to pocket extra cash. But you also have to learn to use them responsibly. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the shininess of earning money back — even if you’re spending unnecessarily.

To help you use cash-back apps responsibly, here are a few of our favorite tips:

  1. Read the offer’s fine print. Make sure you’re purchasing the correct brand and quantity. For example, you might only earn $3 back when you buy a 32-ounce jar of peanut butter — not the 16-ounce one.

  2. Before purchasing a specific item to pocket the cash back, compare prices of other brands. Also take into consideration any coupons. Some simple math will help you determine what’s the best deal.

  3. Learn how to deal stack with your go-to cash-back app. For example, if you use Ibotta, apply any in-store coupons to your purchase first. Then you can still get your Ibotta cash back. Or if you’re shopping online with Ebates, know you can still apply promo codes to your purchase.

  4. If you’re not sure which cash-back app has the best deals for your most frequented retailers, use a site like Cashback Monitor to do a quick comparison.

  5. When you sign up for many of these cash-back apps and sites, you’ll automatically opt in to promotional emails from that app. Go ahead and find that small “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of the email — that way you’re not tempted to spend unnecessarily.

  6. If you’re finding yourself purchasing items just because you’ll get cash back, write up your shopping list, fill your cart, then see if any of the items you’re purchasing qualify for a cash-back deal. Now you won’t get suckered into buying a $5 container of fancy Icelandic yogurt just because you’ll get 50 cents back.

All right. Now that you know the ins and outs of these handy mobile apps, it’s time to earn extra money — or an Amazon gift card. Let us know what’s your favorite!

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Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a personal finance writer at The Penny Hoarder. She loves the thrill of using cash-back apps.