Expert Q&A

Follow the rules carefully to claim your rebate


Consumer forgetfulness plus difficult forms mean half of all rebates go unclaImed, but if you’re diligent, you can be on the ‘good’ half.

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Question for the expert

Dear New Frugal You,
How good are rebates? I have some friends who swear by them and always seem to be bragging about the check they just got in the mail. But other friends say that they’re tired of chasing down rebate checks and it’s all just a big scam. Who’s telling the truth? Am I missing out by not looking for rebate deals? — Diane


Answer for the expert

Dear Diane,
As with so many things in life, there’s a bit of truth to both sides. Some shoppers have turned rebates into an art form. They seem to find exactly what they want and get a check back in the process. But your other friends are also right. Rebates don’t come without risks. And, it’s the wise shopper who is aware of them and takes them into account when they’re shopping.

Why do manufacturers offer rebates? They do it primarily to get you to buy their product. It’s a good way to separate them from the competition. It also gives them a chance to test out how a lower price would affect sales.

But manufacturers also offer rebates because a lot of rebates are never redeemed. The most common estimate is that about half of all rebates go unredeemed. That’s a lot of profit for the manufacturers.

Rebates can go unredeemed for a variety of reasons, but most fall under one of two categories:

  • The consumer wasn’t careful in filling out the rebate.
  • The manufacturer made it very difficult to file and is looking for reasons to reject the rebate.

Naturally, consumers and manufacturers disagree on which is the most likely reason. We can’t resolve that. What we can do is to help you make good decisions on buying products with rebates and collecting on any rebates you qualify for.

The first question that you want to answer is whether you would buy the product at the regular price without a rebate. Naturally, you’ll want to collect any rebates. But if the rebate is triggering the purchase, you’ll want to be absolutely sure that you’ll be able to collect it.

Begin by making sure you qualify for the rebate. None of us want to read all that tiny print while we’re standing in the store. But that’s the time to do it. Some rebates are designed to make it almost impossible to qualify. If that’s the case, you want to find out before you make the purchase.

Look carefully at the terms and conditions. Any of them could be enough to disqualify you. Make sure that’s not the case and that you understand and can complete the rebate application process in a timely manner.

Look carefully for any other commitments or permissions that you’re giving by submitting the rebate. If you’re signing up for 12 months of a service or agreeing to let them use your personal information you’ll want to know that upfront.

Once you’ve made the purchase, keep the packaging that the product came in. You may be required to cut out a UPC code or other part of the packaging and include it with your rebate form. Don’t toss the packaging until you’ve received your rebate check.

Follow rebate instructions to the letter. Don’t give them any reason to reject your claim. If they tell you to print your address, don’t paste an address label in the spot. Print the address. Assume they mean exactly what they say.

Send in the rebate right away. The longer you wait the more likely you are to run afoul of some silly rebate requirement.

Keep a copy of the entire rebate package. If you run into problems, you’ll need to know exactly what you sent, who you sent it to and when you sent it. Many a rebate has been saved because the consumer had a copy of the original submission proving that they had followed instructions or allowing them to fix a rebate request.

Keep a file of rebates that you’ve submitted. Know when a rebate check should arrive. If you pass that date follow up with the company. Be prepared to mail them a copy of everything that you sent in the first time.

Expect to be added to the company’s mailing list. Manufacturers typically will use any personal information that you provide on the rebate form to help them know when to send you mail on a product that they want you to buy. Don’t confuse rebate information with product registration information. Be highly suspicious of the latter: It’s likely all you’re doing is giving away your personal information in exchange for nothing — except a lot of junk mail.

Don’t spend the money you expect from the rebate until you receive it. You’ll be very unhappy if you’re looking for a rebate check to cover your credit card or other bill and it doesn’t arrive. Rebate checks are often slow. Don’t put yourself in a position where you need that check today.

Diane, rebates can be a good money-saving tool for the frugal consumer. But, like many tools, you need to use it correctly to get the desired result.

See related: Getting the most out of rebates, Prepaid cards replace checks as rebate payment of choice

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