Using rebates can frustrate even the most patient of buyers. While a deal-hunting customer may not encounter any difficulty at the register, collecting the rebate can cause staggering complications. Rather than risk such difficulty, following six simple rules will help you get your money.
This article outlines six rules, along with a framework structured around several online rebate sites, web technologies and strategies, for ensuring that you get rebates in full.
Why Do Companies Offer Rebates?
Rebates aren’t exactly free money – they’re taxed twice. You first get taxed when (and if) you pay sales tax and, again, when you use the rebate money to buy something.
The companies involved make their money on delaying your ability to make an immediate purchase and by attaching the rebate to a credit card. Whenever your card is used, the merchant pays the credit card company money. Ultimately, consumers end up paying higher prices, which “generously” get spread back around to customers.
However, if the company processing your rebate simply fails to pay out – they make even more cash. A combination of laziness and fraud result in 40-60% of rebates not getting claimed. However, by applying a handful of simple rules, 100% of your rebates can be claimed.
Rule #1: Don’t Use Poorly Reviewed Rebate Companies
Most consumers don’t know that the majority of businesses offering rebates do not provide the actual rebate service. Retailers, instead, outsource their rebate operation to third party companies, specializing in processing rebates.
The reputation of these companies varies greatly – some purportedly never grant payment, even when the customer properly fills out the paperwork. However, in my experience, the more reliable services almost always pay out, even providing second chances to those who improperly filled out their paperwork. Consequently, you will want to find out which service offers the most reliable processing system – the single best way is by Googling the manufacturer of the discounted item, including search key terms, such as “rebate service”.
Rule #2: Keep A Record of Your Rebates With Online Cloud Storage
In the event of a catastrophe, keeping a backup of all your paperwork will make the difference between getting your claim rejected or accepted. My preferred method of backing up and digitizing documents uses Dropbox and a scanning app. If you lack a smartphone or a digital camera, an actual scanner provides an alternative.
The reason I prefer using a smartphone scanner app, with the Dropbox app installed, is for its ease of use. Essentially, install the app on both your PC and mobile device. Dropbox on your phone by default automatically syncs your photos and scans. Therefore, you simply use the scanner app and your documents get backed up to the cloud. However, make sure your app is working properly – if all else fails, just install DropSpace to automatically back up your pictures.
Rule #3: Track Its Progress With a Spreadsheet
Even after selecting a reputable rebate processing company, keeping track of your rebates offers the best method of ensuring payment. If a processor fails to pay, you can always call as if they owed you money – because they do! Even if the mistake is on your end, most companies offer second chances. And because you backed up your records, you’ll be able to pinpoint where the mistake occurred, if any.
For itemizing and keeping track of rebates, I prefer using a manifest created by Google Drive’s spreadsheet app. In the interests of saving time, you can use my template for creating your own tracking spreadsheet. And keep in mind that Drive also doubles as an alternative to Dropbox.
There are also a handful of apps in the Google Play store which are designed specifically for tracking rebates. However, none received high ratings, and I cannot recommend using them.
Rule #4: Don’t Be Afraid To Call
In the event that you don’t receive your rebate within the allocated time period, you should always call the rebate company. For example, I’ve experienced several instances where the company ran late in processing the payment, or simply didn’t intend on sending it – calling always ensured payment.
As common sense dictates, keep your cool and always use your best manners. Even the worst of rebate companies employ regular people, no different from you and I.
Rule #5: Don’t Fall For Their Tricks!
Most of the rebate processors require that you send in the following three items:
- The original invoice or packing label (or receipt).
- Original UPC code.
Unfortunately, manufacturers tend to attach multiple UPC codes to each package and it’s not clear which UPC code is the required one for the rebate. In the past, I’ve solved this issue through brute force. I cut off all the UPC codes on the package – however, the best method is to simply use an online search engine to find out what the manufacturer uses in its rebate program.
Another important tip – use your rebate card as quickly as possible. Like gift cards, after a certain amount of time the card will begin to accrue monthly “service” fee charges. As ridiculous as it sounds, after a few months the balance on your prepaid card will dry up.
Considering that the processor sits on your cash, collecting interest, it’s absolutely criminal that they charge you anything.
Rule #6: Report Fraudulent Rebate Programs
If after the maximum time period elapses and you aren’t given your money (i.e. cheated), then you should contact customer service of both the product’s manufacturer and the retailer. Sometimes they will make up for the rebate processor’s dishonesty. After all, their reputation suffers when they outsource to disreputable rebate processors.
The absolute last resort is to file a complaint, such as with your state’s (or province’s) Attorney General’s office. Some states offer constituents additional protections against delinquent rebate programs. Two other places to file are through the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.
Unfortunately, over the last decade, rebates come attached to many of the best deals around – which makes them very tantalizing, particularly in a recession. However, if you roll over every time a processor fails to pay, that’s money right out of your pocket.
For those who seek a good deal, failing to collect a rebate is unacceptable. It’s especially unacceptable since getting your money is so easy, if you use six simple tips.