SmarterBucks Review – Not Recommended

by Andy Hough on May 28, 2015

SmarterBucks is an online rewards program that I recently read about on a blog. The blogger stated that they were using SmarterBucks to help pay down their student loan. Since I have a ginormous student loan and am interested in any way to pay it down faster I decided to check the program out. Doing a quick Swagbucks search I found several reviews of the service and they were all positive so I went ahead and signed up for the program.

SmarterBucks Overview

SmarterBucks is similar to other online rewards programs such as Swagbucks and Upromise. The main distinction between SmarterBucks and other online rewards programs is that SmarterBucks is geared towards paying off your student loans. You are able to set up a student loan in your SmarterBucks account to be automatically paid each month that you have earned $10 or more in SmarterBucks. This allows your rewards to automatically go towards paying your student loan which is a simpler redemption process than most other online rewards programs.

How to Earn SmarterBucks

1. SmarterBucks Marketplace

The marketplace works like an online cash back shopping portal such as TopCashBack or Mr. Rebates and pays you up to 10% back on online purchases made through their marketplace. Some of the reviewers didn’t read their marketing copy very well and stated that the marketplace would pay back 10% or more which had me excited to see what stores were available.

The marketplace ended up being a major disappointment. Their cash back rates are not competitive with other cash back shopping portals. Although they state that they pay up to 10% cash back I couldn’t find any stores paying that much and it appears most of their stores only pay 1% cash back. There probably is some store in their marketplace that offers 10% cash back, but it most likely is overpriced and not a store I’d normally shop at. Here is a comparison of cash back earned at five major retailers with SmarterBucks, Mr. Rebates, and TopCashBack.

SmarterBucks TopCashBack Mr. Rebates
Sears 1.25% Varies 2% -7% 3.00%
Walmart 1.00% Varies 1%-4% 2.00%
Target 1.00% 1.00% 0.50%
Kmart 1.00% Varies 1%-7% 3.00%
Staples 1.00% 3.00% 2.00%

As you can see they generally offer less cash back than the other portals. Even looking at Target where SmarterBucks actually matched TopCashBack for the best rate it would be possible to do better elsewhere. Ebates currently offers 2% cash back at Target. Since their marketplace doesn’t offer competitive cash back rates I won’t be using it unless they start offering more cash back.

2. Surveys

They also offer the ability to do surveys to earn SmarterBucks. The first survey they offered to me paid .57 SmarterBucks for a 15 minute survey. That translates to an earnings rate of $2.28 an hour. That is obviously a terrible return for your time. When I did survey for PineCone Research I was paid $3 per survey and the surveys generally took 20 minutes to complete. SmarterBucks’ survey pay rate doesn’t appear to be very competitive with other survey companies. Surveys in general aren’t a good way to earn extra money so I wouldn’t bother with these.

3. Debit Card

Another way to earn SmarterBucks is with their debit card. The website states that you will earn 1% back in SmarterBucks with the Radius Bank debit card. The 1% cash back only applies to non-pin purchases though. That means you would need to run your purchase as credit rather than debit in order to earn the cash back. If you’re going to do a credit purchase you might as well use a rewards credit card. There are plenty of reward credit cards that offer 2% cash back. Some offer even higher cash back for purchases in certain categories.

The debit card is not for me since I can always do better with my reward credit cards. I could see this debit card being useful for someone who doesn’t have the self-discipline to be able to use a credit card. If you have to use a debit card then this card appears to be a good option.

4. Gifting

A unique feature of SmarterBucks is that you can have family and/or friends sign up to be a SmarterBucks gifter and their SmarterBucks earnings would then go towards paying your student loan. This is not an option I would use since it is basically asking your friends and family to pay your student loan for you and would be a bad deal for them since they wouldn’t get to keep the cash back they earned.

A better option is to have your friends and family sign up for Mr. Rebates or Swagbucks. This way you would earn cash back when they earn cash back but it would not reduce the cash back earning rate of your family and friends.


SmarterBucks is not a good deal for the vast majority of people. There are better options for earning cash back. The only instance in which I’d recommend it is using the debit card if you don’t/can’t use a credit card. I’m surprised at the positive reviews I’ve read of this service. My guess is that the reviewers were biased due to being affiliates for SmarterBucks. I have no problem with being an affiliate of a product you review. In fact, this post contains several referral links for cash back sites since the sites are relevant to the post and in my opinion a good deal for my readers. I do have a problem with people giving a product or service a positive review just because they can profit from it. Although I am a member of SmarterBucks I am not including a referral link for the service since I think it would be a bad deal for the vast majority of my readers.


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