We've all done it. We're tempted to purchase an item with a rebate.
The after rebate price is good. But, we wonder whether we'll really
receive the rebate. Because without it, the price offered is not the
best deal available.
Although estimates aren't easy to find, it's generally assumed that
between 40 and 60% of all rebates go uncashed. Some consumers forget
to send them in. Others have their rebate requests rejected. Still
others neglect to cash the rebate check when it arrives.
Any rebate that's not cashed is pure profit for the company. This is
definitely a case where your loss is their gain. And it's a big gain.
Published industry estimates conclude that rebates are worth $6
billion each year. So there's roughly $3 billion uncashed rebates yearly.
Most companies generally do not process their own rebates. They hire
a fulfillment company to do that job for them. These firms are
experts at what they do. There was a time when fulfillment centers
bragged about how many rebate requests they disallowed. They're less
open about it today.
Many rebate forms are designed to be complicated. Their purpose is to
trip you up. Fulfillment centers know what mistakes consumers are
most likely to make in submitting rebates. And they have the legal
staff to tell them what mistakes can disqualify a rebate. The
instructions are often written with the intent of making it hard to
collect the rebate.
So what's a consumer to do? Start by shopping around. A little
patience could turn up a sale without rebate or a similar product at
a price that's competitive to the rebated item.
Look for "Instant Cash" rebates. They're not subject to the same
problems as regular rebates. Typically they're paid out when you pay
for the item. So any doubt about collecting the rebate is eliminated.
It would be nice to know which companies deal honestly with consumers
on rebates. A quick Google search only turned up a couple of sites
attempting to track a company's rebate performance. The only way to
deal with the uncertainty is to do business with reputable companies.
This is surely a case where the offer is only as good as the
reputation of the company offering it.
There are some rebates to avoid. Any that require your original
receipt or do not provide contact information.
Follow the rebate directions exactly. If it says to staple this to
that, make sure that's what you do. And, no, a paper clip isn't the
same as a staple.
Submit rebates as quickly as possible. Make copies of everything that
you send in. If the rebate is sizeable, send it via certified mail
with return receipt.
Save product boxes until the rebate is paid. And track your rebates.
A simple folder for the copies you made will do the job. Be prepared
to write follow-up letters if necessary.
If your original rebate was rejected, send in copies or your original
application with a polite letter demanding the rebate. Keep a copy of
your letter in the 'open rebate' folder.
You can also take your complaint to the manufacturer. Fulfillment
centers are set up to handle (ignore?) customer complaints. The
manufacturer may be more willing to help you. You can usually find
their contact information by searching on the company name and
'customer service department'. Be polite but persistent.
If the company is unwilling to help, there are outside authorities
you can call on. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that "if the
rebate never arrives or arrives late, file a complaint with the
Federal Trade Commission, the state Attorney General or the local
Better Business Bureau." You can reach the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP or
Should rebates be a part of your frugal shopping toolbox? That's
really up to you. Some shoppers enjoy the thrill of the game. Their
letters demanding a rejected rebate be paid are literary works of
art. Their quest for the elusive rebate check would please Indiana Jones.
But, if you're not the adventuresome type or very short of time, stick to sales
and coupons. No rebate checks for you. But you just might keep your sanity!
Gary Foreman is a former purchasing manager who currently edits The
Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. Each week thousands use
The Dollar Stretcher to help them live better...for less. Visit
TheDollarStretcher.com today to see how much farther your day and
dollar will go!