Mail-In Rebates: How They Work and If They’re Worth It

Mail-In Rebates: How They Work and If They’re Worth It
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Products are often advertised at attractive prices, but you discover a catch when you read the fine print. It might be that you have to pay a higher price at the time of purchase and then mail in a special form and other paperwork to get some or all of your money refunded via a rebate check, a gift card, a debit card or another form of “cash back.” You may have to wait several weeks or even months before the money arrives.

Mail-in rebates serve a purpose, and they offer benefits to consumers who can use them wisely to save money. Rebate deals can also be beneficial for the companies and manufacturers that offer them. But as with most tempting deals, mail-in rebates come with some pros and cons.

What Is a Mail-In Rebate?

A mail-in rebate is a partial or sometimes even full refund on the purchase price of a particular item. You buy the product, and you're given a form to fill out and mail back to request the refund.

You'll also be required to submit proof of purchase. This might be a receipt, so make sure you get one at checkout and save it. It might be a bar code or UPC code from the item's packaging or something else designated by the manufacturer, such as the purchase cited on a credit card statement.

A check or gift card is then sent to you in the amount of the rebate if you've completed the form accurately and if you included the proper documentation.

The Time Frame for Mail-In Rebates

Rebates usually run for a specific period of time with an expiration date. The rebate process begins when you purchase the designated item during a promotional time frame and send in your rebate request within a specific period. Your rebate request will be rejected if you send it after the offer has expired.

It can take as long as ‌12 weeks‌ for you to receive your rebate if you mail in your claim, but some companies respond more quickly. Ford Motor Company indicates that it takes them ‌six to eight weeks‌ to process a mailed-in claim, and you can shorten this to ‌four to six weeks‌ if you submit your claim online.

The company or manufacturer should clearly state how long it will take for you to receive your rebate on its rebate form. Federal law requires that they must send you your rebate within the time period they've stated. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison says that the law also requires that you receive the rebate within ‌30 days‌ if no deadline is cited.

The purpose of the time frame is to make consumers act quickly if they want to get their money. Otherwise, the product's manufacturer gets to keep it. Act promptly if you're nearing your deadline. Reach out to the company if it's been longer than the time period specified for you to receive payment.

The Consumer Benefits of Mail-In Rebates

Savvy consumers can benefit from mail-in rebates by saving significant amounts of money. A rebate's purpose is to attract buyers, and many budget-conscious people watch ads for items with attractive rebate offers. Some mail-in rebates are provided on relatively cheap items, and they only amount to a few dollars, but some are attached to big-ticket items, such as computers, appliances or even automobiles. These can offer a significant rebate amount.

The Company Benefits of Mail-In Rebates

Companies offer rebates instead of temporarily lowering a product's price because they know a certain percentage of buyers won't go to the bother of requesting the rebate. Some will file for it incorrectly, which will allow the company or manufacturer to reject their claim. The purpose is to save money for the company because it doesn't have to give the special offer to everyone who buys the item.

Mail-in rebates can also promote sales. Many are designated for in-store purchases only, so there’s always the chance that customers will buy something else while they’re there.

The company also gets to keep its money in the bank until the checks are processed. It continues to earn interest for that extra time period.

Some companies send gift cards instead of a check. The purpose is to get the consumer to spend the rebate money by buying something at a particular retailer.

Watch for Scams!

Some companies draw in purchasers with attractive rebates but then they never send the promised checks. Others can send the checks extremely late regardless of federal law. The purpose is to get more people to buy the company's products without actually having to pay them the promised amount or to hold on to the money longer so it earns more interest.

Attorney General Ellison recommends asking if the company's rebates are insured and asking for verification of this if they say yes. You'll also want to be certain that you know and understand the redeemable date. At least one company has actually imposed a 10-year waiting period.

Make a copy of your mail-in form so you have it on file. Check to see if it has a phone number on there that you can call if things don’t go as expected.

The Federal Trade Commission takes reports on companies that pull tricks. You can reach out to the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection at ‌(877) 382-4357.‌ It also recommends reporting them to the attorney general's office in your state and the Better Business Bureau.

Are Mail-In Rebates Worth It?

You can save yourself some money by taking advantage of mail-in rebates, particularly on big-ticket items and ‌if‌ you're the patient type and highly organized type so you won't miss the deadline. Otherwise, they'll probably benefit the company more than they benefit you, so you might want to keep your eyes open for a "real" sale or a for-immediate-use coupon instead.