Confessions of a Mail-In Rebate Junkie

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How to Collect Your Mail-In Rebates...
...Even Though They Don't Want You To

Mr. Rebates

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Update:  A link to an hour-long program on rebates that was broadcast on WNPR in August 2012 is available here.  I was interviewed toward the very end, but the whole broadcast is worth listening to, if you are as interested as I am in understanding rebates and increasing their value.

Update:  For online shopping rebates, I've been asked which site is better:  Ebates or Mr. Rebates.  The answer is complex, and I've done an analysis which is presented at this site.  BOTTOM LINE:  Check both for the best rebate offers, which is what I do.  As a general rule, you'll earn more money from Mr. Rebates, but you will have to actively manage your account and wait longer to get your cash. 

Update:  I was interviewed by Buzz Remde on his radio program, "The Rebate Show." A four minute audio excerpt from that interview is available at this link.  Posted here with the kind permission of Buzz Remde, and through the facilities of YouTube (because I'm too cheap to pay for bandwidth).
Update:  My step-by-step struggle to pry a $25 rebate out of a very reluctant rebate fulfillment center is detailed here.  Includes the letters that were sent to the rebate fulfillment center as well as the manufacturer, for your use in collecting your own rebates.

Update:  Interested in a couple of responses to this site that we got from some people who work at rebate processing centers?  Scroll down to the "RESPONSES FROM REBATE PROCESSING CENTER EMPLOYEES" section, close to the bottom of this page.

I am a mail-in rebate junkie.  I have saved thousands of dollars through rebate offers.  It's a great way to get products at a reduced price, or sometimes even free!  But I often question whether it's worth my time.  And apparently, I'm not alone.  Web sites such as the ones herehere and here show that there is a high degree of universal frustration with the mail-in rebate process.
 
But that's exactly what makes the mail-in rebate process so rewarding and exciting!  The harder it is, the more discouraging it is for most people, and therefore fewer people wind up filing for or getting the rebates.  And if fewer people get them, that means that the companies can afford to be more generous in the rebates that they offer -- a bonanza for the true mail-in rebate warriors such as ourselves.  So after years of climbing the rebate learning curve, I've decided to share my experiences, so that all of my fellow rebate junkies can benefit.  Here are the cardinal rules of getting your share of the free money:
  • Only deal with reputable, established companies when filing mail-in rebates.  Several years ago, a website called CyberRebates.com offered some ridiculous rebates (for example, you pay $350 for a mini refrigerator, then apply for a mail-in rebate for $350, and when the check comes you get a free refrigerator).  But when CyberRebates went bankrupt they quit paying the rebates, and left several customers with an overpriced $350 minifridge.
  • Always study the rebate offer carefully, and look for loopholes that the company can climb through.  Some rebates may have already expired, or may apply only to certain unavailable products.  Study the rebate form carefully before buying the product.  If the box says, "$30 Rebate!  Details Inside," walk away.  You won't like the details once you get inside the box.  If a salesman is pressuring you to buy a rebate product and won't let you get a good look at the rebate application and terms, walk away.

  • Follow the rebate instructions to the letter.  If it says "circle the price paid and the date of purchase on the receipt," then circle them.  Failure to do so could cause them to decide that your rebate submission is "noncompliant" and they may not pay you.
  • On the other hand, it never hurts to try.  I inadvertently threw away the box and rebate documentation for a $30 box of software.  Upset and angry with myself, I wrote a letter to the software manufacturer, explaining that I threw the box away, asking that they honor the rebate anyway, and sent them all the documentation that I could (receipt, photocopy of the disk, an original page from the users guide) to prove that I actually bought the product.  Much to my surprise, a $30 check arrived a few weeks later!  Who knows?  Give it a shot.
  • Always photocopy or scan the filled-out rebate form and all the supporting documentation, including the all-important UPC code.  Keep the copies.  If you've got access to a scanner, scanning is better, as it requires less space and you can send electronic copies of your documentation if you need to e-mail anything.
  • Keep a log of all your mail-in rebates.  I do this with a separate account on my Quicken financial software, but this can be done with an Excel spreadsheet, or even the old-fashioned way, on a piece of paper.  (An interesting-looking rebate tracking tool is available here.  It appears to be free and downloadable.  But I haven't used it and therefore can't vouch for it or endorse it.)  Your rebate log should include:
    • The date that you sent the rebate application
    • The name of the rebating company
    • The amount of the rebate, and
    • The website or phone number that the company generally provides to check on the rebate status.   
  • Cross out each rebate in your log when you've received and cashed the rebate check.  You can forget about it after that.
  • Review your log at least once a month.  (Don't rely on the company to notify you if you didn't qualify for the rebate.)  If there are any outstanding rebates that are over two months old:
    • Call the phone number or go to the web site and inquire. 
    • Keep a record of all the contacts you make about that rebate, including the date the contact was made and who contact was made with. 
    • Keep a copy of e-mails. 
      • Beware of the "Contact Us" form on the rebating company's web site, which may not allow you to easily track or keep a copy of your message to the company.  (Very tricky, these "customer service" departments.) 
      • If necessary, be sure to copy and paste your message into your word processing software and save it, before sending the message.  Type in the time and date that you sent the message.
  • If you get an e-mail or postcard notification telling you that your rebate is denied because the company claims that you didn't send all the correct supporting documentation:
    • Re-submit your copies of all the required paperwork (including the all-important UPC code) with a polite letter demanding your rebate.  
    • This second submission almost always seems to work.
  • Another option if your rebate submission is ignored, delayed, or turned down, and if you bought the product at a local store:  Go the the store and enlist their help in collecting the rebate.  I went to one store where I bought some software, showed them the completed rebate form and paperwork, and complained that the manufacturer wasn't making good on their rebates.  I expected the store's help in lighting a fire under the manufacturer.  Instead, to my surprise, the store manager went to the cash drawer and handed me my $10 rebate in cash!  I've been a loyal customer since.
  • Stop dealing with the fulfillment center, and start dealing directly with the manufacturer.  The address and phone number on your rebate form goes to the rebate fulfillment center.  They're the people who often have a vested interest in not delivering on your rebate, so they can pocket the money themselves.  If the fulfillment center isn't being responsive, send a letter or e-mail directly to the Customer Service Department of the manufacturer of the product (or provider of the service) that you bought.  You can almost always get this contact information on the Internet.  These companies don't want their reputations ruined by a cheesy fulfillment center, and will usually help you collect. 
  • In the rare event that your repeated attempts to get your valid rebate paid are completely and ruthlessly ignored, then:
    • Go to Google.com.
    • Search the name of the company that offered the rebate.  Find their corporate address and the name of their Chairman, President, and/or Chief Executive Officer. 
    • Then search on Google.com for "[INSERT THE HOME STATE WHERE THE COMPANY HEADQUARTERS IS LOCATED] Department of Consumer Affairs".  With a little sleuthing, you should be able to find the name, address, and telephone number of the consumer affairs department for that state.
    • File a complaint against the rebating company with the state's Department of Consumer Affairs.  With any luck, they'll have an on-line consumer complaint form.
    • THIS IS IMPORTANT:  Be sure to mail a copy of the complaint form to the rebating company's Chairman, President, and/or Chief Executive Officer, along with all of your supporting documentation, and a polite note that says you regret that you've had to file this complaint due to their nonresponsiveness.  Include your phone number; for some reason they almost always want to call you (rather than write or e-mail) after they get this letter. 
    • This is the "nuclear option."  In my experience it has never failed.
Never be discouraged, and don't let the small handful of shady retailers, manufacturers and rebate fulfillment houses get you down.  There are some great rebate deals out there; now let's go get them!

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UPDATES:
  • My thanks to Andrew Tobias for posting a link to this site, which has led to links being posted on various other sites.
  • Some web discussions about this site and its contents are available here and here.
  • Some very useful and informative comments that I've received about this site, and that provide a few additional tips on rebate collecting, are here.
  • Unfortunately, I don't have the capacity to keep this web site updated with the latest rebate deals, or news of which companies are the best rebate payers, and which are the worst.  For that information, the best site I've been able to find is here, and I'd recommend that you click that link periodically for the latest rebate news and updates.
  • If you have a complaint against a company for its lack of responsiveness to rebate issues, please post it at this site.  Great site; highly recommended (also referenced at the top of this web page).
  • Comment from Bob:  Someone I knew worked for a rebate company, until the company was shut down by the state of Minnesota.  He claimed the way some of them work is this: (a) You submit the rebate. (b) They submit to the company that offered the rebate.  Company pays them plus a processing fee. (c) Now they delay and hope to outlast you.  (d) If you notify the company they send out the rebate ASAP.  (e) They keep the money of the people who just give up.  (f) If they think they are getting investigated they just pay up everyone.  Pretty good business to get into if you are a sleaze ball.

RESPONSES FROM REBATE PROCESSING CENTER EMPLOYEES (Be kind when you call or write to these people!) 

  • "Hi, I work for a rebate processing center, and if you people would actually do what you're supposed to, you would get your rebate with no hassles.  Read the offer form, follow that instruction to a tee. And if it is a little late, maybe about 5 million other people are requesting the same rebate. So I might take a little longer. A letter to the manufacturer won't do anything in getting your rebate faster."
  • "Hello, I presently work for a rebate processing company. I have worked with the actual mail and in the Call Center dealing with consumer phone calls, emails and faxes.  First of all, a lot of problems consumers have with mail in rebates would be non-existent if they filled out the rebate forms properly and read (and followed) all the instructions,  ESPECIALLY keeping copies of everything!  I would say about half of the rebate forms I had to data-enter from were so illegible that I had to guess at some of the letters in people's names! Some people even forgot to fill out their name or address completely!  And of course others did not include the receipt or the UPC. Other problems arise when we have received mail that has been water damaged, damaged by the Postal Service mail sorting machines, etc. But, when I started working in the Call Center I found out that most of the problems are easily solved by a phone call to the Customer Service number on the rebate form.  In most cases I am allowed to take the information over the phone to clear any error on a consumer's rebate record.  If the manufacturer or retailer has given us instructions that documents are needed to clear an error, we are able to take the missing information by fax or email attachment. The only times I have had to tell a consumer that we will not be able to honor the rebate has been when they truly did not buy a qualifying product or we are missing information from their record and they did not keep copies of anything they mailed to us. That said, I have of course also seen errors on our part. Some employees are sloppy and don't care if they are following procedure correctly.  Fortunately, these employees don't last too long.  Unfortunately, these employees cause problems for some consumers and ultimately for those of us who have to take the irate phone call from the consumer when they don't get their rebate. Another misconception about rebate companies is that we get to pocket any rebate claims that consumers are denied.  Far from the truth. Simplified, we process your mail and then send a bill to the company offering the rebate. Once the manufacturer or retailer pays us, we can mail out checks to the consumers.  (Also the reason for the long processing time frames on rebates, which incidentally are set out by the manufacturer or retailer, NOT the rebate processing company.) Anyway, sorry to chew on your ear for so long, I guess all those long days of people screaming and swearing at me on the phone for their rebates has me a little frustrated:)   Don't forget to keep copies of your rebate."

This website and its contents are copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 by James K. Hickel.  Links to this site are welcomed and encouraged, but pasting, copying, or embedding the content onto another site or medium is prohibited without advance written permission.

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