Beating Rebate Rejection

by Gary Foreman

After Epson failed to send my promised rebate and ignored my follow-up letters, I stopped buying items with rebates. If they want to put something on sale, they can lower the price to the consumer. The rebates are just a racket and I refuse to play their game. I make sure I tell the sales clerks this when they recommend a product with a rebate.
GG in CA

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.

Rebates that are not cashed are 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. 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

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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