Rakuten Review 2021 – Earn Cash Back on Your Online Shopping

If you shop online – and who doesn’t – you can easily earn cash back on the shopping you are already doing.

Rakuten allows you to earn cash back on many online purchases. If you are shopping at one of the retailers on their platform, just start your shopping through their portal (or use the browser extension) and earn cash back.

The service also makes it easy to redeem your rewards balance as cash or gift cards with a balance as low as $5.01. 

This Rakuten review can show you how this free shopping app can maximize your online spending.

Table of Contents
  1. What is Rakuten?
    1. How does Rakuten Make Money?
  2. How Rakuten Works – In Depth Review
    1. Who Should use Rakuten?
    2. What Stores Work with Rakuten?
    3. Rakuten Payment Schedule
  3. How to Make Money with Rakuten
    1. Online Shopping
    2. Browser Extension
    3. Mobile App
    4. Local Shopping Offers
    5. Gift Cards
    6. Discount Codes
    7. Refer Friends
    8. Rakuten Credit Card
  4. Rakuten Rewards Options
    1. PayPal
    2. Paper Check
    3. Gift Cards
    4. American Express Membership Rewards
    5. Charity Donations
  5. Rakuten Customer Service 
  6. What does Rakuten do with Your Data?
  7. Is Rakuten Safe?
  8. Positives and Negatives
    1. Pros
    2. Cons
  9. Is Rakuten Really Worth it?
  10. Rakuten Alternatives
    1. TopCashback
    2. Swagbucks
    3. Ibotta
    4. Fetch Rewards
  11. Summary

What is Rakuten?

Rakuten is a cashback shopping app that awards cash back at more than 2,500 only stores for almost any purchase category. It’s free to use and most stores award up to 10% back but smaller, specialty stores can earn as much as 40% back.

You can earn cash back at discount stores like Walmart and Target. Specialty stores and departments like Banana Republic and Shutterfly can earn more but only sell one type of product.

Some of the rewards categories include:

  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Electronics
  • Entertainment
  • Gift cards
  • Health and beauty
  • Home décor and furnishings
  • Travel

Shoppers can redeem their shopping rewards for cash and gift card rewards with a $5.01 balance. It’s also possible to redeem online promo codes and earn credit card rewards on these purchases.

The service originally began in 1999 as Ebates.com but was acquired (and renamed) by Rakuten at the turn of the decade.

Bonus: Earn a $10 signup bonus after making your first $25+ purchase with Rakuten.

How does Rakuten Make Money?

Rakuten is 100% free for shoppers who can earn cash rewards.

So, what’s the catch?

Online shopping is a competitive business where many shoppers may not have brand loyalty and simply shop from the merchant offering the best deal.

To increase business, stores partner with apps like Rakuten to offer shoppers cash rebates. Rakuten passes a portion of the rebate to shoppers when they make a purchase. 

These cashback rebates sites can be a win for all parties. The shopper pays the same price as not using Rakuten while earning cash back. Both Rakuten and the online store can make money.

One potential downside of Rakuten is that other rewards sites tend to give more of the commission to shoppers by offering higher cash back rates. Instead of earns 2% with Rakuten, another platform may offer 4% back.

However, these platforms may be harder to navigate or require a higher rewards balance to cash out.

Earn a $10 sign up bonus with Rakuten

How Rakuten Works – In Depth Review

Earning cash rewards with Rakuten is easy.

Here is a step-by-step look:

  1. Start shopping session from Rakuten app, website or browser extension
  2. Add items to cart and pay for purchases
  3. Rakuten tracks purchases and calculates shopping trip rewards
  4. Cash out when balance reaches $5.01

The key to earning cash back is activating a unique shopping session from the Rakuten platform. Completing your purchase in the session is necessary so the app can track your shopping rewards.

Rakuten awards cash back on the item sales price, excluding taxes and shipping. Shoppers receive their shopping rewards notification within 24 hours of completing their purchase.

Buying directly from the merchant’s website and bypassing Rakuten doesn’t earn the bonus rewards. Having to activate a session can be a tiny nuisance but that’s how cashback apps work.

Shoppers can receive their shopping rewards quarterly (February, May, August and September). Their balance must be at least $5.01 at the end of the calendar quarter to get paid. The rewards options include PayPal cash, paper check and gift cards.

It’s also possible to earn cash rewards on select in-store purchases. You will need to activate a shopping session and pay with a linked debit card or credit card. The online shopping purchases can be paid with any card as the service tracks your purchase using a unique tracking link.

Earn a $10 sign up bonus with Rakuten

Who Should use Rakuten?

Rakuten is a good fit for any online shopper that wants to effortlessly earn cash back at most online stores. You will earn the most money by making regular online purchases.

Being able to redeem rewards with a $5.01 balance is another attractive reason to join. Many similar platforms require a balance of either $10 or $25. 

The minimum requirements to join Rakuten are that you must be at least 18 years old and have an email address.  

What Stores Work with Rakuten?

Over 2,500 stores offer shopping rewards, according to Rakuten.

Some of the well-known stores offering cash back include:

  • Adidas
  • Banana Republic
  • Groupon
  • Nike
  • Old Navy
  • Target
  • Walmart

Most stores let you earn rewards on every purchase but select product categories may not qualify for cash back. One example is buying gift cards instead of merchandise.

Some brands only credit purchases for new customers. This is common with services such as meal delivery kits, cell phone plans, and signing up for home internet or streaming apps. 

Select department stores offer local shopping offers when you pay with a linked payment card.

Is Amazon on Rakuten?

Amazon shoppers may hope that Rakuten can offer cash back for this online store. Unfortunately, Rakuten currently doesn’t offer cash back on Amazon purchases but can show coupon codes. 

Other rewards portals may offer cash back but only on select categories like buying Amazon gadgets (i.e. Kindle, Fire) or joining Amazon Prime.

While you can’t earn bonus cash back on Amazon through Rakuten, other apps can help you save money. The Honey app can compare seller prices, track prices and apply coupons codes.  

Rakuten Payment Schedule

Shoppers usually receive a notification within 24 hours of how much their most recent shopping trip earns in rewards. Some merchants may release the earnings after a few hours or after several days.

While app users can quickly confirm that Rakuten tracks their shopping trip, the rewards platform only send payment up to four times per year.

Payment DateMust Earn Minimum Threshold By This Date
May 15March 31
August 15June 30
November 15September 30
February 15December 31

Why is there a payment delay?

Most merchants won’t pay Rakuten your rewards amount until 90 days after the purchase date. This waiting period ensures you don’t return an item, get a refund but still earn rewards for the purchase.

Earn a $10 sign up bonus with Rakuten

How to Make Money with Rakuten

You get paid to shop using Rakuten. There are several ways to easily activate shopping sessions to earn proper credit.

Online Shopping

The standard way to activate shopping sessions is by visiting the Rakuten website. You can compare cash back rates by store name and shopping category.

When you’re ready to start shopping, click the “Shop Now” button. The service opens a new browser tab with the retailer’s website. You will need to complete your purchase in this tab to earn credit.

The cash back portal recommends not having any items in your cart before you start shopping to make sure you receive proper credit. Goods already in your cart prior to activating the session may not track. 

Most online stores offer between 1% and 10% back on the item price before taxes and shipping.

Browser Extension

Installing the Rakuten Cash Back Button can be the easiest way to spot cash back deals if you shop online with a desktop or laptop. 

This browser extension works with these platforms:

  • Chrome
  • Edge
  • Safari
  • Firefox

The extension automatically notifies you when visiting a retailer offers cash back with Rakuten. You can activate a shopping session directly from the store website with the browser button.

This tool is valuable if you forget to visit Rakuten first or to save a step and avoid visiting their homepage before each online purchase.

Another benefit of the browser extension is seeing cash back offers in search results. If you’re searching for items on Google, the extension displays the shopping rebate beside the results.

Mobile App

The mobile app is available for Android and iOS devices. One potential benefit of using the app is to see app-only cashback rates that are higher than the web platform. For example, you may get double rewards by shopping through the app but only the standard rate if using the browser extension.

Local Shopping Offers

Several department stores offer in-store cash back when paying with a linked credit card or debit card. You can activate offers on the Rakuten website or mobile app before paying.

Some of the participating local stores include:

  • Adidas
  • Aeropostale
  • Ashley HomeStore
  • Carter’s
  • Levi’s
  • Lindt Chocolate Shop
  • Moosejaw
  • Polo Ralph Lauren

Most offers award between 1% and 4% back. This rewards rate is lower than most online offers yet Rakuten is one of the few cash back portals to offer in-store cash back.

Gift Cards

One of the platform’s newest features is the Rakuten Gift Card Shop. You can buy digital gift cards to many stores and restaurants and earn between 1% and 6% cash back.

Earn a $10 sign up bonus with Rakuten

Discount Codes

The browser extension and mobile app can apply known discount codes when you’re ready to pay for only purchases. 

Users can also see the latest discount codes and storewide promotion on the store profile in the Rakuten website. You may have to manually enter the promo codes at checkout when activating shopping sessions directly from the Rakuten homepage.

It’s also important to read the cash back terms and conditions before redeeming promo codes you find outside of Rakuten. Personalized offers like a birthday discount or a loyalty club discount may disqualify you from earning cash back.

Refer Friends

If you end up liking Rakuten enough to tell your friends about it, you can each earn bonus cash if they join using your referral link. You can earn $25 and your friend earns $10 when they make a minimum $25 purchase after joining.

Rakuten Credit Card

This shopping app works with any rewards credit card or debit card. But if you love Rakuten, you may like the Rakuten Cash Back Visa Card. Synchrony Bank issues this card.

Key card features include:

  • Earn extra 3% back on Rakuten purchases
  • Earn 1% back on non-Rakuten purchases
  • Get a $10 cash bonus on the first qualifying card purchase
  • No annual fee

This tiered cash rewards credit card is best for Rakuten purchases. You get an unlimited 3% back for online, in-store, Rakuten Dining and Rakuten Gift Card Shop purchases plus the standard cash back offer.

If an online merchant offers 2% back, paying with the card lets you get 5% back instead.

You redeem your credit card rewards with your standard Rakuten cash back at the quarterly payment dates.

Rakuten Rewards Options

Another benefit of using Rakuten is its flexible redemption options. While you can only get quarterly payments, the $5.01 redemption minimum is one of the lowest for shopping portals.

The default payment setting is for cash rewards via PayPal or a mailed check. Rakuten will also ask if you want to redeem your rewards for a gift card a few days before they send payment. 

PayPal

The easiest and most flexible redemption option can be PayPal cash as its fast and digital. There are no service fees.

Paper Check

The “Big Fat Check” is an iconic payment method. You may prefer this method if don’t have a PayPal account and want to deposit your rewards directly into a checking account.

There are no additional fees to receive a check payment but it takes a few more days to receive your rewards by snail mail.

Gift Cards

It’s also possible to get free gift cards and some department stores may offer a redemption bonus. This option can be good if you plan to shop at stores offering the bonus as your gift card balance is higher than the cash payment.

But you may need to shop at department stores like Old Navy or Kohl’s to get the bonus. 

American Express Membership Rewards

Participating American Express credit cards that earn Membership Rewards can earn credit card points instead of Rakuten cash. Users will need to connect their Membership Rewards account to Rakuten to earn bonus points on Rakuten shopping trips.

Charity Donations

It’s also possible to donate your cash earnings to select charities if you don’t want to receive cash rewards. 

The Rakuten Cash Back for Change, rounds down your payment balance to the nearest dollar. You earn the whole dollar amount and the spare change goes to a charity of your choice. For example, if your reward is $10.75 you’d get $10 and the charity of your choice would get $0.75.

Some of the charitable causes include:

  • Direct Relief
  • Eat. Learn. Pray.
  • Girls Inc. of Alameda County

Rakuten Customer Service 

If you encounter a shopping rewards tracking error or need help on another topic, you can contact Rakuten customer service by live chat or submitting an online ticket. 

Their response times are relatively quick and can be better than many competing apps. The online knowledge base also has extensive FAQs that can answer your questions before opening a ticket.

What does Rakuten do with Your Data?

One downside of using rewards shopping apps like Rakuten is that the platform must track your shopping history to award cash back. This information can be sold to third parties but you may not receive as much spam as other rewards sites. 

The service may use your recent shopping history and store visits to send personalized offers. For example, you may receive alerts when one of your favorite stores increases their discount rate. 

Like other rewards apps, you can expect almost daily emails about the latest shopping offers. Most of the messages are platform-wide and the entire Rakuten membership receives the same message.

Unlike other apps, Rakuten doesn’t link to your email account or Amazon account to track online orders. The app also won’t store your credit card information if you only use it for online purchases. 

Is Rakuten Safe?

The site also uses industry-standard data security practices to protect your account information. No site is hack-proof and a data breach could expose your basic personal details and password.

But you won’t provide as much sensitive information as an online brokerage or cryptocurrency platform

The site is a legit way to get cash rebates on online purchases if you’re comfortable with another party viewing your shopping habits. 

Positives and Negatives

Pros

  • Free
  • Earn cash back on most online purchases
  • Low redemption minimum
  • PayPal and cash payments

Cons

  • Quarterly payments
  • Few stores offer in-store shopping offers
  • Other rewards apps may offer higher cash back rates
  • Must remember to activate shopping session to earn rewards

Is Rakuten Really Worth it?

Rakuten is one of the best rewards shopping apps. It’s worth using if they offer cash back at the online stores or local establishments you shop at often. 

While you must remember to activate a shopping session to receive credit, the browser extension and mobile app can provide a hassle-free experience.

Another reason to consider this app is that you only need a $5.01 rewards balance to receive payment by PayPal or check. 

These factors and the fact that Rakuten is easy to use is why it has a 4.4 out of 5 Trustpilot rating. This is one of the higher scores for similar apps. 

Earn a $10 sign up bonus with Rakuten

Rakuten Alternatives

Rakuten is one of the best ways to maximize your online and local shopping, but there are alternatives that could be a better fit for your shopping habits.

You may also decide to switch between several apps to get the best offers. Check out this article for our full list of cash back rebate sites.

TopCashback

TopCashback is the most similar rewards app to Rakuten as it partners with many of the same online retailers but doesn’t offer ins-tore offers. In general, TopCashback has higher cash back rates than Rakuten.

This app also offers PayPal, bank deposit and gift card rewards with no minimum balance. It’s possible to get a redemption bonus on free Amazon gift cards

Learn More about TopCashBack

Swagbucks

Consider Swagbucks if you want an online shopping portal but also want to earn points with online surveys, signing up for product offers and other micro-tasks. 

Gift card redemptions start as low as $1 and PayPal rewards start at $5. 

Read our Swagbucks review to learn more. 

Learn More about Swagbucks

Ibotta

Ibotta can be best for saving money on grocery trips. You activate offers for name brands before scanning your receipt or placing an online pickup order.

The app also partners with many online stores to buy merchandise and get cash back. The redemption minimum is $20 for gift cards, PayPal and Venmo cash. 

Learn More about Ibotta

Fetch Rewards

If you don’t want the hassle of activating shopping offers, Fetch Rewards can be the best option. You can scan paper receipts from most local stores, restaurants, and gas stations to earn bonus points. Buying name brand groceries earns bonus points.

You can also connect your email and Amazon account for the service to track online purchases and rewards points when you buy qualifying items.

Gift card rewards start at $3 but the service doesn’t offer cash rewards. Here’s our full Fetch Rewards review.

Learn more with Fetch Rewards and use code Fetch 2K to get 2,000 bonus points when you join.

Learn More about Fetch Rewards

Summary

Rakuten is an easy way to get up to 10% back on most online purchases by shopping from a web browser or mobile app. Its low redemption threshold and cash rewards options also make it easy to cash out often whether you’re a frequent or periodic online shopper. 

Rakuten

9

Product Rating

9.0/10

Strengths

  • Free
  • Earn cash back on most online purchases
  • Low redemption minimum
  • PayPal and cash payments

Weaknesses

  • Quarterly payments
  • Few stores offer in-store shopping offers
  • Other rewards apps may offer higher cash back rates
  • Must remember to activate shopping session to earn rewards

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About Josh Patoka

After graduating in $50k with student loans in May 2008 from Virginia Military Institute with a B.A. International Studies and Political Science with a minor in Spanish (I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain for 3 months), Josh decided to sell his soul for seven years by working in the transportation industry to get out of debt ASAP and focus on doing something else with a better work-life balance.

He is a father of three and has been writing about (almost) everything personal finance since 2015. You can also find him at his own blog Money Buffalo where he shares his personal experience of becoming debt-free (twice) and taking a 50%+ pay cut when he changed careers.

Today, Josh relishes the flexibility of being self-employed and debt-free and encourages others to pursue their dreams. Josh enjoys spending his free time reading books and spending time with his wife and three children.

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