Rakuten vs. Ibotta [2021]: Which Cashback App Offers More Value?

Is there a clear winner in the Rakuten vs. Ibotta debate? Find out which cashback app makes the most sense for you.
Last updated May 20, 2021 | By Ben Walker
Happy woman with smartphone

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Cashback apps make it easy to earn money on most of your shopping expenses, whether it’s online or in-store. You can earn cash back on groceries, apparel, travel, food, gifts, and much more. If you want to save money on everyday purchases, consider adding apps like Rakuten (formerly Ebates) and Ibotta into your regular shopping routine.

Both apps offer multiple ways to earn cash back, but you may find your spending habits and shopping patterns align more closely with one over the other. In this Rakuten vs. Ibotta comparison, you’ll learn how the two apps stack up against each other, how they work, and what their differences are. This will help you decide which app will bring you the most value on your shopping trips.

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Rakuten vs. Ibotta

If you’re learning how to manage your money more effectively, cashback apps can play an important role in a smart budgeting strategy. Both Rakuten and Ibotta offer cash back for online and in-store purchases at thousands of major retailers, which can provide you with an easy and free way to save money on purchases you’re already making.

As you consider which of these free apps is best for you, use this table to quickly compare them. In many ways, the process of earning cash back is very similar with both Rakuten and Ibotta, but you may find you like certain things more with one of them.

For example, both apps offer mobile app access and browser extensions, which make it easier to access cashback opportunities wherever you are. However, you’ll find big differences in their available redemption options and minimum cashout values.

Rakuten Ibotta
Online vs. offline Online and offline Online and offline
Type of app Mobile app (iOS and Android) and browser extension Mobile app (iOS and Android) and browser extension
Redemption options PayPal deposit, mailed check, or Amex Membership Rewards points PayPal deposit, Venmo transfer, bank deposit, gift cards
Minimum cash out $5.01 minimum $20 minimum
Rewards expiration Rewards don’t expire, but they’re subject to account maintenance fees after 12 months of inactivity Rewards don’t expire, but they’re subject to account maintenance fees after six months of inactivity
Best for... Online shopping In-store offers

Visit Rakuten Visit Ibotta

How does Rakuten work?

Rakuten is a cashback site, app, and browser extension offering cash back for purchases you make at select online and in-person retailers. Currently, the Rakuten browser extension is available for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari.

The easiest way to use Rakuten is by using it to shop online. With the app or browser extension, you can see how much cash back you’d receive from any available store. Then you click on the store’s link through Rakuten and you’ll earn cash back if you make an eligible purchase during that shopping trip.

To earn cash back through in-store purchases, you’ll have to select your in-store offer through Rakuten and then link a credit or debit card to your Rakuten account. When you go to the applicable store and make an eligible purchase with your linked card, you’ll earn cash back from the offer you added. Linked offers are valid for one purchase at a time, but you can relink an offer to use it again.

Rakuten also offers the Rakuten Cash Back Visa credit card. With this card, you can earn 3% cash back on qualifying Rakuten purchases and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Rakuten Benefits

  • Get a $10 bonus gift card when you spend at least $25 at a participating store
  • Earn cash back for shopping at your favorite stores
  • A quick and painless way to save money on your usual shopping trips

How does Ibotta work?

Ibotta is a cashback and payments app and browser extension that allows you to earn cash back from purchases made online or in-store. It’s often considered one of the best money-saving apps because of its accessible and lucrative cashback offers.

Use Ibotta for in-store purchases by adding offers to your app before shopping and then submitting a receipt with your purchases after checkout. You can also link your store’s loyalty account to Ibotta and access rebates without having to submit a receipt. Or you can buy gift cards through the Ibotta app and get cash back for those purchases instantly.

For online purchases, use the Ibotta app or browser extension to select and activate offers at different online retailers. Then make your purchases and earn cash back on them. The Ibotta browser extension is currently only available for Google Chrome.

Ibotta Benefits

  • Earn $10 for signing up and redeeming your first receipt
  • Get cash back on normal, every day purchases
  • Works great at grocery stores and pharmacies!

What both cashback apps excel at

Because both Rakuten and Ibotta are legit apps designed to help consumers earn cash back on purchases, they’re bound to have some similarities. Here are the ways both cashback apps overlap in their benefits for users:

  • Free to use: Because there’s no cost for using either Rakuten or Ibotta, all the cash back you earn is a complete bonus. The only thing you’re spending is your time adding offers or clicking on a cashback link. In most cases, it takes only a few seconds to earn cash back through these apps, so it’s typically worth your time.
  • Earning potential: You have thousands of retailers to choose from for earning cashback rewards with Rakuten and Ibotta, so odds are that even your routine shopping trips to the grocery store will align with the earning opportunities on these apps.
  • Redemption options: Some cashback apps allow you to redeem your rewards only for gift cards, which aren’t always the most useful redemption. With Rakuten and Ibotta, you can redeem your rewards for straight cash.
  • Referral bonuses: It’s not uncommon to see Rakuten and Ibotta offer generous bonuses when you refer friends to their platforms. This is one of the best ways to earn cash back through these apps because it doesn’t require much effort on your part. Simply share your referral code with a friend and you’ll get cash back when they use it to sign up and meet the requirement of the referral offer. The requirement is typically to use the app to make a purchase, sometimes with a minimum purchase amount.

4 important differences between Rakuten and Ibotta

Looking at the differences between the Rakuten and Ibotta apps can help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each. One app may be better in some ways while the other app clearly excels in other ways.

Minimum cash out

Cash back doesn’t always accrue quickly with cashback apps because you may be getting small percentages of cash back on every transaction. If there’s not a deal or promotional offer available, your cashback earnings can take a while.

This can be frustrating if a cashback app has a high threshold for their minimum payout. For Rakuten, you need at least $5.01 to cash out your rewards. Once you hit that threshold, Rakuten will automatically issue your rewards via your preferred payment method. For Ibotta, the minimum cashout is $20. Though Ibotta does offer the opportunity to earn welcome bonuses on qualifying purchases that can help new users reach this threshold, it's still higher than Rakuten’s, and Ibotta won’t automatically issue your rewards. So if you forget to cash out with Ibotta and don’t use your account for a while, you might get hit with a maintenance fee.

Because Rakuten has a low minimum cash out and will automatically send you payments when you meet it, it offers better overall value than Ibotta in this regard. However, Rakuten has three-month intervals between cash out periods, which may not work for everyone. Read our Rakuten review to learn more.

Redemption options

Both Ibotta and Rakuten offer similar redemption options, including deposits into your PayPal account. However, Rakuten also offers the option to redeem rewards for Amex Membership Rewards points.

Amex Membership Rewards points are valuable rewards earned by many American Express credit cards. They’re known for their flexibility with being able to redeem them for travel, online shopping, gift cards, or transfers to Amex transfer partners.

Rakuten members can cash out their rewards for Membership Rewards points, which is a unique and lucrative redemption option. This isn’t an available redemption option on Ibotta, so Rakuten takes the upper hand here.

Earning in-store cash back

Earning cash back with apps is useful as long as it doesn’t take too much time. If you’re spending a lot of time searching for offers and scanning receipts to earn less than a dollar in cash back, it’s likely not worth your time. This is why Rakuten and Ibotta have tried to make it as easy as possible for their users to earn rewards.

For both apps, earning cash back from online purchases is fairly straightforward. You find the store you want to shop at and you click on it through either app. Then you make your purchases and earn cash back.

For in-store purchases, Rakuten offers a slightly smoother process. You add an in-store offer in the app and then use a linked card to make a purchase at the store. With Ibotta, you have to choose between adding offers and scanning receipts or linking your store loyalty card to your Ibotta account. It’s a little more complicated than adding an offer and using your normal method of payment, especially if you have to take pictures of receipts and scan the barcodes of products you’ve purchased.

Offers

Ibotta typically has loads of good offers to use at participating retailers, including Walmart and Kroger. These may include getting certain items for free when you use an eligible offer. One example of this is the 2020 Thanksgiving dinner offers that Ibotta provided in partnership with Walmart. These offers allowed you to get nine items for free from Walmart, including a 3-pound turkey and a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. Overall, the offers added up to about $20 in savings.

Rakuten also has offers, but you typically don’t get offers for free items. Instead, Rakuten often has buy one, get one (BOGO) offers or you might have to spend a certain amount of money to get something for free. Because Ibotta’s free offers are actually free, they can be very valuable. Read our Ibotta review to learn more.

Which cashback app should you choose?

In many cases, the best cashback app for you is the one that offers the best deals. Because cashback rates and participating stores can change for both Rakuten and Ibotta, it’s hard to say which app offers the best deals for you. At any given time, Rakuten may offer more cash back at one retailer while Ibotta offers more cash back at another. This is why it may be the most beneficial to use both cashback apps.

You can’t necessarily earn cash back from both Rakuten and Ibotta on the same purchases, but you can maximize your earnings by choosing the app that earns the most cash back whenever you make a purchase. For example, if Rakuten is offering 10% cash back on Best Buy purchases and Ibotta is only offering 5% cash back, it makes sense to use Rakuten. Or if Rakuten offers cash back at Target and Amazon, and Ibotta doesn't. Still, Ibotta might offer higher cashback rates at another store, so you’d want to choose Ibotta over Rakuten if that’s the case. Comparing cashback rates between the two apps will ensure you get the most cash back possible on qualifying purchases.

Of course, you may find it gets too complicated to try and maximize your earnings. In this case, Rakuten typically offers more value for online purchases and Ibotta for in-store purchases. But it also may depend on what stores you shop at or what’s available in your area. Be sure to look into both apps to see which one would be the better fit for you and the stores you frequent.

If it solely comes down to how you want to redeem your cash back, Rakuten offers Amex Membership Rewards points as a redemption option. Still, Ibotta gives you the option to transfer cash back directly to your bank account within a few days of requesting your funds. This could potentially be much quicker than Rakuten’s option to mail you a paper check.

FAQs about Rakuten vs. Ibotta

Which is better: Ibotta or Rakuten?

The better option between Ibotta vs. Rakuten depends on your spending habits and cashback preferences. If you want to earn cash back in the form of Amex Membership Rewards points, Rakuten is the better option for you. If you’d rather get cash back transferred straight to your bank account, Ibotta is the preferred choice. Both Rakuten and Ibotta offer multiple ways to earn cash back and partner with thousands of retailers, so it’s hard to go wrong with either option.

Is Rakuten worth it?

Rakuten is well worth it if you frequently shop online or in-person. The app and browser extension make it easy to earn cash back on purchases you’re already making through the simple click of a button. This may help you save big money on everyday purchases.

Is Ibotta worth it?

Ibotta is more than worth the small amount of time and effort required to use it to earn cash back. If you’re already shopping online or making in-store purchases at popular retailers, you can use Ibotta to earn cash back on your purchases. It doesn’t take too long to find valuable offers in the Ibotta app or browser extension, and both are free to use.

Which app is best for cash back?

The best app for cash back is the one that aligns with your shopping habits and consistently offers value when you use it. Rakuten is an excellent option for earning cash back on online purchases because it doesn’t require much effort. Ibotta is a great choice for grocery shopping because it often has offers on many different items you may frequently purchase. Other apps like GetUpside, Fetch, and Drop may also be worth considering if you're interested in cashback programs.

Bottom line

If one of your personal finance goals is to learn how to save money on everyday purchases, then consider adding apps like Rakuten (formerly Ebates) and Ibotta into your shopping routine. As you look into which cashback app is better for you, remember you can use both apps at different times depending on the available earning rates. 

Use whichever app offers a higher cashback rate to earn the most free money from your everyday purchases. It may even make sense to incorporate other shopping apps into your strategy to save more money. The best budgeting apps can help you pinpoint areas in your financial situation where you can improve your savings and earn extra money.

Rakuten Benefits

  • Get a $10 bonus gift card when you spend at least $25 at a participating store
  • Earn cash back for shopping at your favorite stores
  • A quick and painless way to save money on your usual shopping trips

Author Details

Ben Walker Ben Walker is a credit cards and travel writer at FinanceBuzz who loves helping others achieve their travel goals through financially-sound decisions. For nearly a decade, he has been using credit card points and miles for the sole purpose of traveling the world. Ben has been featured in The Washington Post, MSN, Debt.com, and Finder.com.