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Smart Buying

Get the Most Out of Cash-Back Shopping Sites

Follow these tips to find legitimate sites and earn money back when you shop online.

When it comes to shopping online, don't limit your money-saving efforts to coupon codes, deal alerts and price comparisons. You can also benefit from cash-back sites that let you earn back a percentage of the money you spend on qualifying purchases. Here's how it works: You register with a cash-back site and shop at its online retail partners. If you buy something, the cash-back site gets paid a commission by the retailer. The cash-back site then shares a percentage of that commission, in the form of cash back, with you.

However, these sites aren't quite as straightforward as coupon, deal and price-comparison sites. You need to know what to look for in cash-back sites and how to compare your options before you start using them, says Scott Fitterman of CouponCactus.com, which provides coupons and cash back. Here are some tips:

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Membership should be free. Cash-back sites require you to become a member, which usually involves providing an e-mail address to create an account. Membership at legitimate sites, such as BeFrugal.com, CouponCactus.com, Ebates and Extrabux, is free.

Favor sites with a wide variety of merchants. The best sites have at least 2,000 retail partners, says Fitterman, including many well-known brands. And several sites offer more than just cash back -- they offer discounts, coupon codes and price comparison to help you save even more money.

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Compare cash-back percentages. The amount you can earn back will vary from site to site and even from retailer to retailer. So Fitterman recommends comparing the cash-back percentages offered by various sites to see which ones provide the highest payback.

Seek out sites that make payments at least once per quarter (by check, credit card or PayPal) and allow you to file a claim if you don't receive a payment. Sites also should make it easy for you to view your balance and history.

Demand good customer service. Check companies' sites or Facebook pages for testimonials and reviews. Make sure contact information is provided. A live-chat option is ideal because it allows you to get instant responses to questions.

Evaluate the terms of use agreement and privacy policy to ensure that you won't have any issues with unauthorized use of your personal information.

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