6 Ways To Save Money

1. Credit Cards – I realize that credit cards are one way many people accrue debt. I make money with mine. Advanced Warning – applying for a credit card is a hard pull on your credit report. Hard inquiries will temporarily reduce your credit rating. It is not wise to apply for many credit cards at the same time. You also shouldn’t apply for new credit cards if you know you are going to apply for a house loan in the next few months. Many people have strong enough credit that it doesn’t matter, but these are typically best practices.

2 Ways To Make Money With Credit Cards

Signup Bonuses

If you have already accumulated debt, you would be wise to search for a credit card with 0% financing on balance transfers (typically 6-18 months) and no transfer fee. The latter part is important because most credit cards offering 0% financing typically charge a transfer fee around 3%-5%. The Chase Slate card is the most common credit card offered with a 0% balance transfer fee within the first 60 days and 0% financing for 15 months. The other biggie with the Chase Slate card is it has no annual fee. If you are interested in this option, you might also check with Discover. Most of their offers involve a transfer fee, but I have had a fee sent to me with no fee and a 0% introductory APR.

chase slate card

If you don’t have credit card debt you need to refinance, the Southwest Airlines card by Chase currently has one of the best signup bonuses. You will receive 50,000 bonus miles (roughly $700 worth of flights) after spending $2000 in the first three months. There is a $99 annual fee that is not waived. Since there is an annual fee, I recommend using this as a churn card (you can currently only receive this bonus every 24 months). The standard benefits are not good enough to continue using the card after earning the signup bonus.

50000 points southwest airlines card

Cashback On Purchases

I typically earn about $1000 dollars a year in cashback by strategically using my credit cards. A lot of my earnings accrue from an old Citi Forward card that gives me 5% back (in thank you points) on restaurants and Amazon (book stores). Unfortunately, the newer terms are not as generous. It was intended as a college card, but obviously didn’t have the intended results for the Citi bottom line.

Current Cards That Rock

  • Chase Freedom & Discover – these cards are almost the same card from different companies. They both have no annual fees and offer 5% cashback on quarterly rotating categories. If you are good keeping track of the categories, you might as well get both cards. Chase Freedom frequently has a $200 signup bonus after just $500 worth of purchases in the first three months.
  • Penfed – this card is from the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. They are remarkably good all around financial institution. I found them originally because they had the lowest rates on used auto loans. Their credit card gives 5 points for gas purchases and 3 points for grocery stores. The rates used to be 5% and 3%, but they switched to a slightly less lucrative point system about a year and a half ago. The switch made the points a little less than 20% less valuable. Said another way, you will actually earn a little over 4% cashback on gas purchases. It is worth noting you will need to make a couple dollar donation to the American Red Cross to qualify to join Penfed if you are not part of the normal network. It’s one of those odd legacy credit union rules.

penfed rewards

 

  • Fidelity Amex – This is the only card I’ve mentioned that I don’t personally have. Why don’t I have it? I have a Bank of America card that gives me 2.5% cashback on all purchases when I collect more than $300 in cash rewards. Since I have never seen the BOA deal offered to the general public, the Fidelity Amex card is my recommended card for general day-to-day cashback. AMEX cards typically come with an annual fee. This card does not. The other component I love is that the earnings can be deposited into your IRA. This is a tremendous way to turn a little money now into a lot of money during retirement.

fidelity amex

2. Cashback Websites – In the affiliate industry cashback websites are referred to as loyalty sites. Discover Deals uses the loyalty site model. My favorite cashback websites are MrRebates and Ebates. Combine these cashback websites with deals from Slickdeals, Google Shopping and FatWallet to save more money. Be careful with Slickdeals and FatWallet. Many people go on a shopping binge when they first become part of the community. Google Shopping is the best and most widely used comparison shopping engine (CSE). The advantage is that many merchants put slightly lower prices on Google Shopping because they know they are competing with the masses. We actually used a source code embedded in the end of the tracking link that would set a cookie, resulting in 5% lower prices than if you hadn’t gone through Google Shopping. Pricewatch was the first CSE I used in the mid 90s. Unfortunately, they never evolved beyond computer parts and many bad merchants started gaming the system. People still game Google Shopping. It is important to stick to stores that are rated well. FatWallet merged with Ebates a few years back, but Ebates still tends to offer higher cashback rates. This screenshot will give a slight indication as to how long and how frequently I use MrRebates.

mrrebates account

 

3. Pay for Your Car Insurance 12 Months at a Time – many people don’t realize car insurance policies can be purchased in 12 month cycles. They think you can only buy the policy 6 months at a time. I have used this strategy with both Kemper Preferred and Progressive. If you think about it, a tremendous amount of what we pay for insurance is marketing spend. Insurance companies help create this problem by dicking over loyal customers. It is statistically proven that people who don’t switch car insurance companies end up paying more. The caveat here is you don’t want to lock in a rate for 12 months if you are about to experience a dramatic decline. Examples would be right before you turn 25 or when a wreck is soon to drop off your record. It would also be silly to pay for a 12 month insurance policy with a credit card with a balance. Think of it like an airline hedging their bets by buying oil an advance. If they think the rate is going to drop, they might lock in a relatively small amount. If they think oil prices are going to increase, they will lock in the rate as long as they possibly can.

one year long progressive policy

 

4. Haggle with the Cable Company – recurring bills are the bane of my existence. Even a little increase adds up to a substantial amount when you multiply it by 12x or 365x. I recently saw that my Time Warner internet bill had gone from a manageable $45 a month an unsustainable $70 per month. BTW, that is the exact phrasing I used when speaking with the Time Warner rep – this bill is unsustainable. The representative said that he needed to investigate. Within a couple minutes, he said that he added a 12 month discount rate of $39.99 to my bill. This was about the fifth time I had used this exact same strategy. I only encountered one woman who would not budge. If you happen to get that sad CSR, hang up and call again. The next person will hook you up. You need to put on your sales person hat in these situations. Be nice but be firm. Other strategies are to mention the introductory rates you have received from ATT or whatever competitor is in your area. Fortunately for us in Austin, this is about to become a moot point with the arrival of Google Fiber. I am only paying Google an initial fee of $300 spread over 12 months to add fiber to my house. Then they are going to give me Internet (5Mbps down and 1 Mbps up) free for the next six years. That is going to be a real win.

time warner bill

5. Ask a Bank to Waive Fees – I must make another confession here. I don’t always pay my bills on time. This has never been due to a lack of funds. It results from poor planning. Anyway, if you have a credit card and you were late paying, ask them to waive the fee. You can also use this strategy for over draft fees. Those were more of a problem several years ago when banks would purposely approve transactions to gain the $35 fee or reorder purchases to make clients accumulate additional late fees. This strategy again requires using your salesman hat. Be nice to the rep and emphasize the fact that you are a good customer.

bank of america chat

Note the banking representative asked me to setup auto-pay. I promptly took him up on this offer. I don’t pay the full balance through auto-pay, but I make sure that at least the minimum is covered to ensure I do not incur late charges. Discover setup this program for me with no work on my part. Bank of America required a somewhat tedious process, but it took less than fifteen minutes in the end.

6. Use an Off Brand Phone Provider – By off brand phone provider, I mean Cricket, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Metro PCS, etc. My co-worker said, “don’t only drug dealers use that” when I said I had switched to Cricket Wireless. The reality is that all the sub-brands use the exact same service as the larger brands.

  • Cricket – AT&T Owned Company
  • Boost / Virgin – Sprint
  • Metro PCS – they are actually owned by T-Mobile. They are purely using a different marketing strategy.
  • Straight Talk – weird mix of Verizon, ATT, and Sprint

If you do not believe what I just said or say their must be some disadvantage of the sub-brand services, marketing works well on you my friend. I don’t mean that to be a condescending statement. Marketing works well on me too. The only difference is that I have seen too many cases where people are able to charge 5x or 10x more on a product simply because they advertise it more.

Name brands (ATT, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile) provide great deals to people on family plans. They offer horrendous rates to people who are simply paying for themselves. The main advantage of major brand cell phone providers used to be that they would give you a shiny new iPhone every 2 years. While that is still true, you can buy a similar phone out of pocket and with no contract for just a couple hundred. The math doesn’t work out anymore with the name brand carriers. The same providers are providing the service in the back end.

I sincerely hope you take these strategies to heart. I am not bullshitting. I have used every single one of these methods and they will save you a substantial amount of money in the long run.

6/14/15 Update about Cricket

Since AT&T owns Cricket and merged legacy customers onto their network, AT&T branded phones will work on Cricket. These phones do not have to be unlocked to work. Here are the steps to make the AT&T phone work.

1. Call Cricket at 1-800-CRICKET to add the IMEI or add it in your online account settings.

2. Take the SIM card from your old device or have Cricket send you a new one. Once the sim is added the port will work.

Shop Discover Changed Their Name To Discover Deals

I recently received an email from Discover saying that ShopDiscover was retired and the new name is Discover Deals.

discover deals

 

Why Was The ShopDiscover Name Changed To Discover Deals?

My conclusions are purely speculation since I neither work at Discover nor do I have a contact to tell me the impetus of the change.

1. The word Deals is more likely to garner traffic likely to signup for a Discover card. Note, they went with 2 words this time. Discover hosts a huge authority website that is more likely to rank for Deal related searches and than Shop related searches. Over 90,000 people search for simply the word deals each month. Google considers competition for this term low.

deals traffic

2. Deals more accurately describes what Discover is offering. ShopDiscover implies Discover is selling you an item. The reality is they didn’t even highlight specific items. It was purely a cashback focused website that used affiliate links to give Discover customers a kickback on their purchases from merchants.

3. Discover Deals is going to integrate more coupons. They are targeting the RMN / Groupon models. Discover is light years ahead of the other banks on this front. I fully expect product specific deals to also be posted on the new site. This would allow them to target the Slickdeals / Fatwallet model. I am already starting to see coupons integrated on the new site.

discover deals coupon

 

How Does Discover Deals Differ From What Other Banks Are Offering?

Other banks offer attempts that are half-hearted at best. Bank of America uses a system that lets users add discounts to their credit card. The merchant list is incredibly limited and not consistent. BOA currently has 29 offers compared to well over 200 offers with Discover Deals.

bank of america deals

The Chase system is awful. It has roughly the same number of stores as Discover Deals. I believe they use to outsource their system almost entirely. The newer system looks better, but Discover is steal better because the cashback starts at 5% and goes in increments of 5. The Chase system shows a deal for Newegg at 2%, but that includes 1% that I would normally receive by using my card anyway.

chase cashback

Interesting Note

Some people at Fatwallet are claiming the new Discover Deals interface might not rely upon merchant affiliate reporting and instead matching an activated deal with a credit card statement (like BOA uses). This would be a radical change if true. I used Shop Discover all the time with my Visa that gives me 2.5% cashback on all purchases. I’ll update again after I make more purchases and get a better idea as to whether the system actually changed in this manner.

Shop Discover Review

shop discover

I recently wrote reviews of Mr. Rebates and Ebates. They are both excellent sites to take advantage of the cashback opportunities afforded by affiliate marketing. Shop Discover does exactly the same thing, but the rates are often higher because merchants are often willing to offer more cashback to Discover Card customers. Another reason that the rates are higher is that Discover Card is less interested in taking a cut for themselves. Their main objective is to add cashback as an attractive feature to current and prospective customers.

 

How Does Shop Discover Work?

Cashback sites work by passing affiliate commissions on to the consumer. That means that the folks at Shop Discover join a merchants affiliate program through one of the major networks (Commission Junction, Shareasale, Linkshare, etc.). After they join, they are provided unique tracking links. A cookie is placed in the users browser when the link is clicked. When the user makes a purchase, a pixel on the merchant’s confirmation page sends the sale data back to the network. The cashback site, Shop Discover, has an API setup to match that data back to the user on their side.

You can test what I say by clicking on most any merchants link. When I click on the Art.com link at Shop Discover, I see this popup:

art.com shopdiscover

After the link resolves, I see this URL:

http://www.art.com/?AIDCJ=10716080&PIDCJ=2387181&SIDCJ=1029240098&RFID=547673

Pretty much anytime you see AID in a link, that stands for affiliate ID. We can also see that Art.com puts the PID and SID from Commission Junction. Here is a classic example of a merchant willing to pass on more cashback to Discover Card customers than they would through the traditional affiliate channel. When I look at Art.com’s listing in Commission Junction, their standard commission rate is 5%. They are passing on twice this amount to consumers that use Shop Discover.

Something interesting I’ve noticed about Shop Discover is after I login and click on the affiliate link, their system doesn’t actually make me use my Discover Card to receive the Shop Discover cashback rate. This can be particularly handy when a different credit card is offering a higher rate. E.G. my Bank of America credit card gives me 2.5% on all purchases.

 

How Does The Cashback Rate From Shop Discover Compare

A big difference with Shop Discover compared to other cashback sites, like Mr. Rebates or Ebates, is that the latter sites work with almost 10 times as many merchants. Shop Discover currently only works with roughly 200 of the largest merchants. Shop Discover cashback rates go in increments of 5%. Stores offer cashback rates of 5%, 10%, 15% or 20%. The reality is which site offers the most cashback with a given merchant will vary over time. On average, Shop Discover is typically better than most other sites.

Mooosejaw currently offers 5% cashback through Ebates.

ebates moosejaw

Cashback for Moosejaw from Mr. Rebates is currently at 10%.

mrrebates moosejaw

 

Cashback for Moosejaw from Shop Discover is currently at 10% too.

 

moosejaw shopdiscover

 

The Moosejaw example illustrates the need to check out the individual rate amongst several cashback sites if you are dedicated to finding the highest cashback rate. My article on cashback monitoring sites can help with this.

 

What Merchants Are On Shop Discover?

Shop Discover currently works with slightly over 200 different merchants. Compared to your average cashback site, this is a rather small number. You can download a spreadsheet of all the merchants they work with as of July, 2014 here.

Some merchants of note are Walmart (5%) and Target (5%). They work with other cashback sites, but 5% is the best rate I know. Since that is the minimum amount of cashback a merchant can offer to work with Shop Discover, their rates are likely to stay this generous too.

 

Summary

Shop Discover is a great cashback site if you have a Discover Card. Many merchants offer more cashback through Shop Discover than you will find from competing cashback sites. The biggest problem with Shop Discover is the fact that it works with relatively few stores (a little over 200). Fortunately, they continue to add merchants every year and the largest sites already participate.

Ebates Review

ebates cashback logo

Ebates is one of the best cashback sites on the web. I recently wrote a review of Mr. Rebates. They are my favorite cashback site, but for all practical purposes, Ebates is just as good. The deal with cashback loyalty websites is that the site with the highest cashback will vary over time. For example, cashback for Groupon might be 6% on Ebates, 3% on Mr. Rebates, and 10% on Shopdiscover. This same equation can be completely switched the next month.

How Cashback Sites Work

My day job is as a marketing affiliate manager. As a result, I work closely with many cashback websites and have a strong understanding of how they work. Here is the short version:

  • Cashback loyalty sites join the affiliate program of a merchant, like Kohls, Groupon, or Living Direct.
  • The cashback site is given unique tracking links. Most of these links work by using browser cookies, so you don’t want to use incognito mode or blocks cookies when you try to earn cashback.
  • After you click on the affiliate link, a pixel fires on the confirmation page reporting your purchase to the affiliate network.
  • The cashback site displays the purchase and splits the commission with you.

 

How To Use Ebates (With Graphics)

1. When you first go to Ebates.com, a popup will appear asking you to register. You will have the choice between $10 gift cards to stores like Walmart and Target or you can take $5 back to be paid with your first payment. The only information required to register is your email address and a password.

ebates registration

2. After you register, you are then ready to start shopping. If you have a specific store in mind, it’s easiest to use the search box. Otherwise, you can click Shop All Stores tab at the top left to see a table with all the stores and the corresponding cashback rate.

ebates step 2

3. When you have found the page for the store where you plan to make a purchase, click the shop now button.

ebates step 3

4. You will then see a popup and be redirected after a few second to the selected merchants site. It is very important at this point not to click links from other websites since they could override the Ebates tracking cookie.

ebates step 4

Caveats

  • As I mentioned above, most affiliate tracking uses cookies. Cookie tracking will fail a small percentage of the time. It tends to be even less accurate on mobile devices.
  • Merchant affiliate tracking sometimes breaks. At my last job, their were huge tracking problems when I started. It took months to find and resolve all the possible causes. This problem is less common with large merchants, but I’ve even seen sites as large as Living Social report inaccurate data. Fortunately, in the cash of Living Social they over reported since their pixel configuration wasn’t subtracting for coupon usage, so it just meant extra cashback and slightly guilty conscious.
  • Don’t use coupons not found on the cashback site. The majority of the time you can get away with this, but if you are counting on the cashback, it isn’t wise to surf for a better coupon. Flower delivery sites are one of the most likely categories to void the cashback if you use an outside coupon.
  • Don’t add the items to your cart and then click on the cashback link. This component is becoming more critical. Merchants pay commissions because they are trying to find partners that will bring incremental sales. Affiliate networks, like Impact Radius, are starting to offer tracking options that won’t give an affiliate credit if the customer already has the items in the cart. The theory is that the customer would make the purchase with or without the affiliates assistance.
  • Gift cards can void cashback. I made a purchase from Rockler wood working for my father’s Christmas present this year. I added a gift card to increase my order value to qualify for free shipping. Rockler ended up voiding the entire commission because a gift card was part of the order. Personally, I thought this was bullshit, but it is a warning for you.

 

How Much Can I Save With Cashback Sites?

I usually save around $1300 a year using my various cashback tactics. About half that comes from my grandfathered Citi Fowards card that gives me 5% back at restaurants and Amazon. Cashback sites like Mr. Rebates and Shopdiscover account for about $300 worth. Obviously, your experience will vary based upon where you shop, how much you shop online, and how much you spend. Regardless for someone at my very average income level, using cashback sites is well worth it. I tend to the enjoy the experience though. If you view the process as tedious work, it might not be worth it for you. We all elect to spend our money in the way to that makes the most sense to us.

 

Advantages of Ebates

  • Ebates has been around since the end of 1998. They are well respected and trustworthy. Trustworthiness is always an important factor for anyone that owes you money.
  • They give a $10 signup bonus gift card.
  • They have a generous refer a friend program – after you register, you will be provided with a unique link to send your friends.
  • Ebates tends to be near the top in how much cashback they offer for most merchants.
  • There is a Canadian version for our friends to the North.

How Does Ebates Pay

Ebates sends quarterly payments to customers with at least $5.01 worth of cashback pending. Amounts under this value rollover to the next payments cycle. This is a difference between Mr. Rebates. They pay at the first of each month, but you have to request payments. Cashback won’t become available in Ebates until the transaction has locked in the affiliate network. The waiting period is usually between 30 to 60 days.

ebates payment schedule for 2014

Ebates pays users by check, PayPal, or to a charitable organization.

 

How to Find the Site with the Most Cashback

If finding the absolute maximum amount of cashback is your number 1 aim, you will not want to exclusively use Ebates. I recommend reading my article about the best cashback monitoring sites. If you don’t have the time for that now, you might want to look at a site like Cashback Holic to compare the cashback and bonus rates of different loyalty sites. These sites can usually help you quickly and easily maximize the amount of cashback you receive from a given merchant. My only advice is to be wary of cashback sites that are new or lack reviews. That might spell trouble regarding your likelihood of future payment.

 

Is Ebates A Scam?

I was surprised to see how many people search for whether Ebates is a scam. I assume it goes back to the old saying, “if it seems too good to be true…” Fortunately, Ebates is completely legit, and you will be paid if you follow the steps correctly.

On the off chance you have some issues, Ebates offers timely and competent support. Ebates has an A+ BBB rating. They will go out of their way to try to make sure you are pleased with their company. They have been accredited since 2000.

ebates bbb rating

If you have a problem, I would reserve going to the BBB as a last resort. Your best bet is to go the help section of the site first. They have an extensive FAQ. The customer service contact form is here. Even if your purchase doesn’t show at first, Ebates can do an order inquiry to ask the merchant to look into the issue. At that point, it is a crap shoot though. I’m usually pretty lenient about approving inquiries from loyalty sites as long as another affiliate didn’t also receive credit. The merchant doesn’t want to leave a bad taste in the mouth of someone who has already shown they are willing to make a purchase.

 

Complaints

In an attempt to have an unbiased review, I searched for complaints about Ebates. Ripoffreport had 34 complaints. Given how long Ebates has been in business, I didn’t think this number was very high. The majority of the complaints were from people claiming they weren’t paid. Unfortunately, this is an inevitable problem with a last click tracking system that relies upon cookies. A few of these people claimed Ebates support didn’t reply. I personally find this hard to believe both based upon my experience and the fact that Ebates support replies to the complaints on Ripoffreport. I take this as a definite sign that they are legit and committed to customer satisfaction. Here is one of the replies from Ebates support on the site:

ebates reply on ripoffreport

 

 

Selecting The Best Online Brokerage

I’ll preface this article by saying I don’t purport to be any sort of financial expert. I am just an average 31 year old guy who recently went on a quest to find his first online brokerage. I have 401k / IRA accounts with Fidelity through my work. I wanted a separate brokerage account for what I consider my mad money gambling with an edge account. I don’t like Vegas style gambling because the house usually wins in the end. I only consider this brokerage account gambling because I plan to buy one off stocks against the advice of all the experts who say to put money in a low fee index fund and let it sit there. I’m not completely crazy though. I follow the expert advice for my Fidelity accounts.

What I Considered When Selecting An Online Broker

1. How much of a signup bonus can I earn

2. The minimum funding amount

3. Cost per trade

4. The reputation of the online brokerage

5. Does the brokerage conduct a hard credit pull

 

Signup Bonus

If you have millions of dollars, a signup bonus might not be important to you. I’m one of those rare critters that even when I have millions of dollars, a few hundred dollar signup bonus will still make me giddy. I love free money, and I doubt that component of my makeup will ever change.

OptionXpress – this is the company I selected because they pay you $100 dollars within one month of funding the account with at least $500 dollars and executing three trades within twelve months. They are owned by Charles Schwab. It gave me a degree of comfort to know that I wasn’t going with some mom and pop operation likely to use my meager funds to bankroll the next London Whale. The downsides of OptionsXpress are a horrendous website and $8.95 trades. This latter amount might not sound like much, but given that trades can be had for as little as a dollar, it can add up. This option will be available until December 31, 2014.

optionxpress promo

A second bonus option from OptionXpress is 50 free trades if you fund with at least $5000. For this option you have to open the account by September 30, 2014. Rebates on the first 50 trades up to $750 in value will be refunded until March 30, 2015.

optionxpress 50 free trades

TradeKing – I would have gone with them had the signup bonus been more advantageous to my circumstance. They offer two bonuses that can seemingly be stacked. One is a $50 bonus and the other is reimbursement for up to $150 in transfer fees. To qualify for the $50 bonus, you need to fund your account within 30 days with at least $3000 and execute three trades within 90 days. As you can see the timeline is stricter than OptionsXpress and the bonus amount is half as much. To qualify for the $150 in transfer fee reimbursement, you have to mail or fax the account transfer form along with the most recent statement from your last broker. They also make you submit an account transfer fee reimbursement form. This process is undoubtedly a pain, but I usually don’t mind jumping through these kind of hoops.

tradeking offer

 

Optionshouse – this is an interesting choice if you are looking to make frequent trades. If you fund an account with at least $5,000, they will give you 100 commission free trades. You have to input the coupon code FREE100 to qualify and the trades are only good for 60 days. You must fund the account within 30 days.

optionshouse 100 free trades

Other great signup bonuses exist. Unfortunately, most require more money than I have to invest at this point in my life. Another one within my reach and most people I know is the $50 bonus, Sharebuilder offers is your open an IRA with them with at least $5000. This is an opportunity many of my friends could take advantage of since they need to rollover old 401k’s from previous employers.

Less Interesting Signup Bonuses

  • E-trade requires a deposit of at least $25,000 to earn a $200 bonus. This amount is tiered up to a $2500 bonus for investing over $1,000,000.
  • Scottrade offers a similar deal with a $100 bonus with funding of at least $50,000. The tiered bonuses go up to $2000 with over a million dollars in funding. As you can see, these bonus amounts aren’t as lucrative as E-trade. Scottrade only charges $7 per trade compared to $9.99 with E-Trade though.

 

Minimum Funding Amount

OptionXpress – no minimum balance requirements and free to option. You will need to deposit at least $500 to take advantage of their $100 bonus after three trades.

Tradeking – there is no minimum with Tradeking to open an account. As federal regulations require, a margin account requires at least $2,000.

Optionshouse – $1000 minimum to open a regular account or $2000 to open a margin account.

Scottrade – $500 minimum to open an account.

E-trade – $500 minimum to open a new brokerage account.

Interactive Brokers – I haven’t mentioned this company yet. They require a relatively high level of funding at $10,000. The benefit is $1 trades for up to 100 shares. You also have to spend at least $10 per month with this company or $20 per month if your balance falls under $2000.

 

Cost Per Trade

I’ve already discussed most of these Optionshouse ($4.75) and Tradeking ($4.95) are the cheapest companies without any catches. OptionXpress, the company I registered with, charges $8.95 per trade. I wasn’t too worried about this rate since I plan to make a handful of purchases rather than trying to be a day trader. Scotttrade charges a very fair $7 per trade. E-trade manages to get by at almost $10 per trade. These rates are for making online trades yourself. Broker assisted trades frequently cost well over thirty dollars.

 

Reputation

On the very slim chance your brokerage failed, you should be fine as long as it is FDIC insured for up to $500,000 in securities and $250,000 in cash. I mostly worried about reputation because of the recent banking crisis and specifically, incidents like those with Jon Corzine at MF Global. In the case of that firm, client money was used to hide losses on billions in currency bets. In the end, 1.6 billion dollars disappeared and the brokerage collapsed. The firm wants to reimburse clients at 93%. While that wouldn’t be a catastrophe for most, it would sting anyone.

 

Does The Brokerage Conduct A Hard Credit Pull?

I specifically asked OptionXpress if they did a hard pull before opening my account. They reassured me that they do not. The problem with a hard pull is that it will lower your FICO score temporarily and if you have several such inquiries, the drop can be dramatic.

Of the aforementioned companies, Scottrade is notable for doing a hard pull. From my common mans perspective, it really is a shitty and unwarranted move. If you are interested in finding more institutions that do hard credit pulls, Fatwallet has the mother of all lists here. Here is information from Investopedia about a hard credit inquiry.

Best Cashback Monitoring Sites

I recently wrote a review of Mr. Rebates. It is my go to cashback site when I am making a purchase on the fly. When the purchase is larger, it can be worth investing the time to review a cashback monitoring site first. As the name would indicate, cashback monitoring sites index a list of sites, like Mr. Rebates, that offer cashback from various merchants and post the different cashback rates.

Best Cashback Monitoring Sites

1. Cashback Holics – my favorite monitoring website. They are the first one I noticed in this sector. The site looks like dog poo, but functionality is great. On top of showing the cashback rate from different sites, they also rate these sites. Here is an example for screen capture for the Groupon results.

groupon cashback cashback holics

Groupon is a site that I check frequently because Shop Discover frequently offers 10% back, although this generous rate has been less common in recent months. I would also be careful with Groupon because they tend to let pretty much anyone into their affiliate program. Hell, even I am in it. Here is my affiliate link if you feel like making a purchase and throwing a few cents my direction.

This is where the Cashback Holic reviews also come into play. If I was looking at this list, I would probably skip the 12% offered by Coupay unless I wanted to test them for shits and giggles. Cashbackhouse looks like a legit option, but if you go to the site and read the terms, there are a myriad of caveats. The interesting part is it looks like they are passing along the entire commission Groupon pays them on a sale. I assume this is a promotional push to garner more users because this model isn’t sustainable in the long run.

cashback house

Personally, I would probably combine the 6% from Ebates with the 2.5% I get back on all purchases from my Bank of America card for a combined cashback rate of 8.5%. I would do it this way because Ebates is well known quantity in my book and they don’t make you think about which category you are purchasing. It’s just a straight 6% back on all purchases.

ebates 6 groupon

If you read that last paragraph closely, you might have asked yourself, “how does your Bank of America card give you 2.5% back on all purchases?” It was a special offer of double the standard 1% rate. Plus if I save up over $300 in cashback, I receive a 25% bonus. It makes for a real life rate of 2.5% cashback on all purchases. While I can’t help you find that particularly offer as I am not sure what qualified me to receive it, Fidelity does offer a no annual fee Amex that offers 2% back on all purchases. I really like that deal since you can steer the cashback into your IRA as a painless way of saving for retirement. By putting the 2% into an IRA that can be used to purchase stocks or mutual funds, there is a good chance it will grow into significant amounts over time.

2. Cashback Monitor – another great site to check cashback rates. It seems to have the same lack of design flare of Cashback Holic, but it is simple enough to use. The differentiator with their site is that you can set up monitoring of the sites where you make the most purchases.  Here is what the cashback monitor configuration screen looks like:

cashback monitor configuration screen

Lifehacker even wrote a little blurb about this site. It’s a fairly crappy article by Lifehacker standards, but it does offer a few more screen captures from Cashback Monitor.

3. Cashback Tool – they aren’t as good as the first two sites mentioned, although they are on the right track. Unfortunately, they don’t provide the same wealth of information and the site isn’t updated as well. As an example here is a somewhat sad result from a Groupon search.

cashback comparison tool

 

 

Mr. Rebates Review

mrrebates logo

Mr. Rebates is my favorite cashback website. The site was founded in 2002 by Craig and Bret Cassata in Illinois. Home base for the company has since been moved to Indiana to avoid the nexus legislation that is the bane of the affiliate industry.

 

How Do Cashback Sites Work?

Cashback sites like Mr. Rebates work by splitting affiliate commissions with the consumer. Said another way, when  you click on a link from Mr. Rebates, the merchant pays Mr. Rebates and they split the commission with you. As a rule of thumb, the split is around 50%. This percentage is frequently increased during holidays. I find this amount fair since the cashback website has to manage to the API to track sales and provide customer support.

Here is how the Mr. Rebates account appears in Commission Junction:

mr rebates in commission junction

Network earnings of 5 bars means that they are pushing significant sales. EPC refers to the earnings per 100 clicks. The three month average here is $2.71 in earnings per click. If you know PPC rates from Google or Bing, you’ll recognize how significant this amount is.

How Long Does It Take?

Purchases should show as pending within a day. Most will show much faster. Cashback changes from pending status to available status after 90 days. This period is long enough to account for more merchants return period.

 

How Do Payments Work?

$10 is the minimum payment threshold. Payments are made through either PayPal or by check. Requests are processed at the start of the following month. Requesting payment is a convenient process of only a couple steps.

mr rebates request payments

 

How Many Merchants Are Integrated with Mr. Rebates?

There are currently a little over 2400 stores integrated with Mr. Rebates. The number of stores with cashback available is one of the biggest advantages to this site. For reference, 2400+ stores is more than 10x the number of stores integrated with Discover Deals.

mrrebates integrated stores

 

Is Mr. Rebates Legit?

I have used Mr. Rebates for over 5 years. I’ve never had any trouble using the site. Support is timely and courteous. Payments are sent as scheduled. The fact that they adopted PayPal years before some of their prominent competitors meant I received most of my payments because I wasn’t left trying to cash a check for $1.88 or some other obscure amount.

mr rebates first purchase bonus

Referral Program

One of the best aspects of Mr. Rebates is its generous referral program. When you refer friends, family, co-workers or readers of your blog, you can earn 20% of their cashback! In fact, I highly recommend you click on my referral link should you decide to register.

Caveats

Tracking is usually cookie based. Make sure that cookies on enabled in your Internet browser to ensure proper tracking. Do not use incognito mode or any equivalent or the sale will not be tracked. It is better to use a desktop platform as opposed to mobile. Always make sure Mr. Rebates is the last link clicked before placing the order. Many sites, particularly coupon sites, are affiliate sites without this association being obvious. Orders can be submitted for review if tracking fails. This is a method of last resort though, and largely depends on how benevolent the merchant is. The first item they check is whether or not another affiliate has received credit for the sale.

Coupons found outside of the Mr. Rebates website might void the purchase. This isn’t a big deal for most purchases since they publish a thorough list of coupons. Lots of times you can get away with using coupons from another site. It is a crap shoot though, and not worth the risk if you are relying on receiving the rebate.

Some products, like gift cards or phone cards, might not be eligible for cashback. These restrictions are determined by the merchant and having nothing to do with Mr. Rebates itself.

 

Alternative Cashback Sites

Any number of cashback sites now exist. Ebates and Fatwallet are my favorite alternatives to Mr. Rebates. Ebates and Fatwallet merged a few years ago, but the cashback rates on Ebates still tend to be a little higher than Fatwallet. Fatwallet is better at finding a deal that might only be available for a short term or require several steps to maximize the discount.

Contact Information

I’ve personally only had to contact Mr. Rebates a couple times. During both of these occasions, they replied the same day.

  • Email: support@mrrebates.com
  • Phone: (877) 658-910-89445
  • Address: Indianapolis Blvd Ste A # 102, Highland, IN 46322-2649
  • Better Business Bureau Page

Here is a screenshot of the manual adjustment from one of the times I’ve contacted Mr. Rebates. The error in this case had nothing to do with Mr. Rebates. Rockler Woodworking incorrectly reverses an entire affiliate commission if part of the order contains a gift card. It makes sense to not pay commissions on the gift card since cashback could both be paid when the gift card is purchased and when it is used. To void the entire order is bad form on Rockler’s part and demonstrates low regard for affiliate partners.

mr rebates manual adjustment

 

Mr. Rebates Signup Link

Mr. Rebates, Inc.

(877) 658-91089445 Indianapolis Blvd Ste A # 102, Highland, IN 46322-2649

– See more at: http://www.bbb.org/northernindiana/business-reviews/internet-shopping/mr-rebates-in-highland-in-90074720#sthash.A7Tt6v6y.dpuf

Mr. Rebates, Inc.

(877) 658-91089445 Indianapolis Blvd Ste A # 102, Highland, IN 46322-2649

– See more at: http://www.bbb.org/northernindiana/business-reviews/internet-shopping/mr-rebates-in-highland-in-90074720#sthash.A7Tt6v6y.dpuf

Best Cashback Sites

I am a huge fan of cashback websites. In the affiliate industry, these websites are known as loyalty sites. The premise behind most of these sites is that they use existing affiliate tracking to split referral commissions with the customer. Most splits are 50/50. Said another way, an affiliate program that pays 4% commissions is likely to show 2% cashback on most sites.

Top 3

There are hundreds of cashback sites out there. Unfortunately, 90% are pretty crappy. The barrier to entry is higher than having a blog since you have to have an API with the network to track orders and voided commissions. Support and accounting are undoubtedly a nightmare for these kinds of sites since affiliate tracking fails about 10% of the time on desktops for a myriad of reasons. This number is far higher on mobile.

1. MrRebates – they are my go to cashback website. It doesn’t look like much. In fact the site has changed little in appearance since it was started in 2002. Fortunately, they rock in the areas that matter. Support is fast and the payout rate is among the highest you can find. My research indicates the site is a family business with Craig and Bret Cassata being the main folks behind the site. I like this mom and pop aspect from a company that I know is making a fortune.

How do I know they are making a fortune? I can see it from their rankings in Commission Junction. Their EPC number is over $200, which is pretty phenomenal. In layman’s terms, it means they make over $2 on average every time a visitor clicks on one of their affiliate links. Following the 50/50 split model, it works out to be more like a dollar a click. It’s still a shit ton for a website with an Alexa rank better than 10,000 (mucho traffic).

mrrebates stats in commission junction

An intriguing note about MrRebates from an affiliate perspective is that they were once based in Illinois. Illinois was one of the first states to pass nexus tax legislation requiring companies to collect sales tax if they had affiliates located in the state. The Illinois supreme court eventually overturned the law. Unfortunately it was too late to save MrRebates and the company moved to Indiana.

I’ve personally used MrRebates since 2010 and have the paper trail to prove it.

mrrebates cashback

It is also worth noting the $5 1st purchase bonus in this screenshot. Many cashback sites will reward you with between $5 and $10 for registering or making your first purchase through the site. They can do this because they know they have a high lifetime value since the service helps you earn money from doing what you would already be doing. The catch is that the bonus is usually under the payout threshold, so you will have to make a few more purchases to cash out.

 

2. Ebates / Fatwallet – I put these two stores together because they merged a few years back. They still operate on slightly different models and sometimes offer slightly different amounts of cashback. Ebates tends to have the higher cashback rate of the two, but Fatwallet has a stronger community to help find remarkably good deals from across the web. Ebates also has a better signup bonus of the two. They will send you a gift card worth up to $10 after you make a purchase of at least $25 by clicking on one of their links. Here are the current offerings:

ebates signup bonus

 

Other Cashback Sites

  • UPromise – this option is interesting because the site is part of Sallie Mae. The cashback collected on purchases is set aside to help fun your child’s college. They claim to have helped members generate over 850 million dollars towards their children’s education.
  • SwagBucks – they have made dramatic gains in popularity. They advertise that they have saved member over 65 million dollars. This is less than 10% of UPromise advertises but still nothing to sneeze at. SwagBucks is more innovative than most cashback sites. Mobile platforms were embraced early, and they think of innovative ways for members to earn additional rewards. Even better, earning cashback through their website almost feels like playing a video game.

swagbucks interface

  • ShopAtHome – I am not a big ShopAtHome fan. They had a toolbar for years that would automatically redirect traffic in order to drop affiliate tracking. The toolbar was indifferent as to whether the user was even signed in to shopathome. This latter aspect is noteworthy because it meant that many times a user was redirected, they didn’t even receive cashback for the purchases made, while shopathome earned affiliate commissions. The whole prospect was shady to say the least. You can tell what the public thought about this toolbar and the company’s ethical practices by conducting a simple Google search.

shopathome toolbar

  • RebateGiant – they offer a $5 signup bonus. I would definitely put them on the lower tier of cashback sites though. The rates are decent. Unfortunately, the site isn’t as well organized as others.
  • TopCashBack – low on the list. I would avoid them unless you are really hard up to earn the $5 signup bonus.
  • BigCrumbs – mediocre
  • BeFrugal – I would only use them for the signup bonus. Other sites are better for day to day usage.

 

Best Bank / Credit Card Cashback Sites

Many of the best cashback sites are associated with credit cards and banks. ShopDiscover is probably the most famous. All major banks offer this option. These are increasingly the go to sites to maximize cashback.

1. ShopDiscover – cashback is rounded to the nearest 5%. This means all the merchants listed offer cashback of 5%, 10%, 15%, or 20%. Discover has many exclusive offers that allow higher bonus cashback amounts. For example, cashback for Groupon was at 10% through ShopDiscover for over a year. The cashback amount was less than 5% through any other source. The only problem with ShopDiscover is the relatively limited merchant pool. They only let the largest retailers into their program.

shopdiscover bonus2. Chase – their store is hard to navigate, but the rates are good. The highlighted stores with the cashback boost are the best deal. Lowe’s currently falls into this category. You can earn 10% cashback this corder if you make purchases online from Lowe’s by going through the chase cashback store. Here is a sample of some of their current offerings:

chase cashback

3. Wells Fargo – they face the same organizational problem as Chase. They tend to pass on the entire affiliate commission as cashback. This can make their site worth the slight organizational headache.

4. BankOfAmerica – the Bank of America system is good if you do a lot of brick and mortar shopping. You can load specific deals on to your credit card and the cashback is earned when you shop at the specificed merchant. Here is how the interface looks:

bank of america cashback

 

Other Useful Cashback Websites

I tend to stick with MrRebates and ShopDiscover in my personal life. If you have the time or the drive to maximize your cashback on every purchase, there are a couple monitoring sites you might find useful.

  • Cashback Holics – the site looks like it is straight out of the 90s. The information is actually well organized and up to date.
  • Cashback Monitor – this site looks slightly more modern than Cashback Holics. I might give it a 2001 origin if I had to guess. Again, it still has a great backend if you are looking to maximize your cashback.