Products are often advertised at a very attractive price, but you discover a catch when you read the fine print. You must pay a higher price at the time of purchase, then mail in a special form and other paperwork to get some of your money refunded via rebate check or gift card. You usually have to wait several weeks or even months before the money arrives. Mail-in rebates have a purpose and benefits for consumers, who can save money by using them wisely, and also for the companies that offer them.
A mail-in rebate is a partial refund on the purchase price of a particular item. The customer buys it and gets a form to fill out and mail back to request the refund. He is also required to send proof of the purchase, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says. This might consist of a receipt, a bar code from the item's package or something else designated by the manufacturer. A check or gift card is sent to the consumer once the paperwork is checked to make sure the form was filled out accurately and the proper documentation was included.
Rebates usually run for a specific time period. You must 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, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns. You will generally get your rebate check in about 12 weeks, according to the FTC. 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.
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 offered on relatively cheap items and only amount to a few dollars. Some are attached to big-ticket items such as computers or appliances; these may offer a significant rebate amount.
Companies offer rebates instead of temporarily lowering a product's price because they know a certain percentage of buyers will not bother to request the rebate at all, and some will file for it incorrectly, which will cause their claim to be rejected. 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. It only goes to those who bother to apply for it. The company also gets to keep its money in the bank until the checks are processed, and it continues to earn interest for that extra time period. The BBB explains that 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.
The FTC warns that some companies draw in purchasers with attractive rebates, then never send the promised checks or send them extremely late. The purpose of this is to get more people to buy the company's products without actually having to pay them the promised amount or to hold onto the money longer so it earns more interest. The FTC says it takes reports on companies that pull this trick, and it also recommends reporting them to the attorney general's office in your state and the BBB.
- FTC: Taking the Bait Out of Rebates
- BBB Advises Consumers to Read Fine Print in Mail-In Rebate Offers
- Federal Trade Commission. "Rebates." Accessed Jan. 15, 2020.
- Maytag. "Maytag Rebates and Promotions." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.
- New York State Division of Consumer Protection. "Refunds, Rebates, and Rainchecks." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.
- Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection."Fact Sheet: All About Rebates."Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.
- Georgia Department of Law. "Rebates." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.
- Amazon. "Claim a Mail-In Rebate." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.
- Maytag. "Submit Rebate." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.
- Federal Trade Commission. "The Rebate Debate: Why Were They Late? FTC Settles Charges Against CompUSA." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.
Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."