I do a fair amount of shopping online, whether we are talking about back-to-school clothes for my kids, new furniture, or my frequent Amazon buys. I use coupons when I can, and I always pay with a credit card that earns cash back rewards. But there’s one more way that I can keep more of my own money in my pocket whenever I buy online: Rakuten.

Rakuten is a free website that allows you to earn cash back almost every time you shop on the web. Whether you are ordering household supplies, a new computer, or soccer cleats for the kids, you will earn money back in the form of a rebate. Then, you can cash out and use that rebate for anything you want, including depositing it in a savings account or vacation fund.

To some, Rakuten may sound too good to be true, but it’s really not. Here’s a rundown on how this rebate site can transform your online shopping forever.

What is Rakuten?

While you can often find coupon codes available, Rakuten isn’t a coupon site by definition. You won’t usually save any money on your transaction by buying through a Rakuten link. Where the benefit most often comes in is after the transaction, when you will receive a rebate for your buys.

Rakuten became the pioneer and leader of online cash back shopping 20 years ago. The company was founded in 1998 by two Deputy District Attorneys in Silicon Valley, in fact. They used to prosecute web fraud and identity theft prior to founding Rakuten, so it only seems natural that their popular company centers around online transactions.

How Much Does Rakuten Cost?

The only thing better than earning cash back on your purchases is doing so for free. Whether we are talking about rewards credit cards that don’t have an annual fee, grocery/gas loyalty programs, or companies like Rakuten, free money is the best money.

Joining Rakuten is always free; all you have to do is sign up. No matter how much–or how little–money you spend through their website, Rakuten never takes a penny from you.

Every three months, Rakuten will mail you a check with your earned rebate balance, or they can also transfer the money to your PayPal account. There’s no fee, no catch, and the process is easy. If you want to use that free cash to do some good, they’ll even send the money to your favorite charity. No matter your preference, there is absolutely no charge for any of it.

How Does Rakuten Earn Money, Then?

So, you might be wondering how exactly Rakuten works, and how they’re making money if they’re not taking it from you in some way. Well, the concept behind the website is simple: your online merchants pay Rakuten for referring your business to them.

In order to earn your promised rebates, you will need to shop through the Rakuten site, from their list of partner merchants. This means logging in after you’ve signed up, finding your store of choice, and clicking through to that site from the Rakuten portal. This allows Rakuten to confirm your purchase as well as earn credit for the referral.

When you make a purchase, the merchant will send a share to Rakuten, as sort of an affiliate commission. Rakuten then passes most of the money they make on to you, keeping a small percentage for themselves. The share they keep adds up quickly, but you don’t even notice, because you’re still getting the majority of it in your own account, as free cash back.

So, the more you shop via Rakuten, the more money they will make. The more they make, the more money they can pass back to you in the form of a rebate. Makes sense, right?

The Sign-Up Process

The process for signing up for Rakuten and saving money online is about as easy as it gets. The first step is to visit their website, Rakuten.com. There, you’ll register an account, which takes just a few seconds to complete.

You can see from the graphic above that the only things required to get started with a new Rakuten account are your email address, a password, and the email address of the friend that referred you (if applicable). Once you start earning money with Rakuten, you will need to provide more personal information. This includes things like your address, phone number, and Paypal account email address, but that info is only used to pay you.

The Cash Back Process

As it currently stands, there are over 2,500 merchants who participate in the Rakuten program, many of which you’re likely familiar with. From Macy’s to Holiday Inn Express to Barneys New York, the locations where you will earn cash back are growing every day.

The cash back amount you’ll receive from Rakuten is clearly displayed on each page, so there are no surprises. This amount varies from 1.0% back to as high as 50.0% cash back, and beyond (that’s the highest I’ve seen, but who knows what will happen in the future).

For example, let’s assume you’re looking to buy some back-to-school clothes at Macy’s for your kids, to the tune of $300. Rather than visit their site directly and make the purchase, you should first visit Rakuten. There, the current cash back percentage for shopping at Macys is currently 6%–not a bad rate!

Once you’re ready, click on the Macys link through Rakuten and you will be temporarily directed to the following page:

This page will stay on your screen for just a few seconds before you are automatically directed to the Macy’s website. Then, make your purchases there as usual; feel free to use coupons, if you have them, and even a rewards credit card, to earn even more!

When you return to Rakuten a few days later, you should see the 3% cash added to your account. On $300 spent, that’s a solid $18 saved, plus whatever your cash back credit card gives you.

You can earn an unlimited amount of cash back through Rakuten. There are a few individual merchant limits, which Rakuten will clearly define before they redirect you, but that’s it. Plus, receiving payment is a breeze.

Once per quarter, you’ll receive a check or Paypal transfer from Rakuten, and that’s really all there is to it. If you’re making a TON of money with your online shopping, they may choose to send out checks sooner than every three months. And if you choose to sign-up for their newsletter, you’ll even be provided the chance to earn double cash back on a different store every day.

More Than Shopping

Since its introduction, Rakuten has become more than just an online shopping rebate website, though. Now, you can even earn cash back when you book certain hotels or travel plans, or even when you use VRBO to book a vacation home.

You can also access special coupons through the site, whether those merchants offer actual cash back or not. Coupons vary and change regularly, but it’s another great place to look if you want to save on your next online purchase.

Lastly, you can even snag your cash back when shopping in-store at select merchants. If you are at the mall anyway or absolutely want to check out an item in person before buying, you don’t have to forgo your rebate; just make sure that the merchant is part of Rakuten in-store cash back list.

In-store cash back is often less than offered online; for instance, Macy’s only gives 2.0% back right now when you buy in-person, versus the mentioned 6.0% for buying online. However, this might be worth it to you if you can’t pass up that clearance item in your size or find the perfect home accent for your living room.

There’s no downside to shopping online through Rakuten, as it gives you an easy, free way to build up extra cash… all for buying the things you were buying anyway. Combine it with coupons and rewards credit cards to double up on your earnings, and see just how much you can save!

To sign-up for your Rakuten account and start saving on most of your online purchases, visit www.Rakuten.com.

Also read: Best Cashback And Rewards Apps


  • Stephanie Colestock

    Stephanie Colestock is a respected financial writer based in Washington, DC. Her work can be found on sites such as Investopedia, Credit Karma, Quicken, The Balance, Motley Fool, and more, covering a range of topics such as family finances, planning for the future, optimizing credit, and getting out of debt.

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