You either love them or hate them: you love them for the “free” money it offers, but hate them for the frustrations it produces. From my previous post Are Mail-In Rebates Worth The Hassle? we’ve all felt the collective pain and aggravation that rebates can dish out, so it’s time to put ourselves out of our misery and discuss how we can improve the rebate process for ourselves as well as to ensure we actually receive our cash back. A lot of these steps are common sense, but it doesn’t hurt to review these reminders.
How To Reach Rebate Nirvana (Or How To Successfully Receive Your Rebates)
- Ensure that you understand the eligibility rules for a purchase involving a rebate.
If you’re purchasing an item that is discounted with a rebate, make sure that you understand the terms to avoid misunderstandings and rebate form rejection. Read the fine print and check that you’re not inadvertently agreeing for your personal information to be taken and used by merchandisers who receive your rebate claims.
- File your rebate forms immediately.
We might as well. It’s easy to forget this tiny chore after we make a purchase. How many of us are guilty of setting the little things aside saying to ourselves we’ll get back to it later? Then of course, procrastination sets in; before long — bye bye rebate.
- Follow directions very carefully and send original receipts when they are requested.
If an item has a rebate, ask the store for duplicates of the original receipt, just in case this is required for the rebate process to be properly completed.
- Write clearly.
There’s a risk for the retailer or other rebate processing center to throw out forms with illegible handwriting.
- Account for all the documents you need.
Make sure you have all the paperwork needed to file a complete and successful rebate.
- Make copies of all paperwork that you send out.
Like all other documents you need to send out, keep copies and file them away for easy reference.
- Keep track of all your rebates in some kind of tracking tool or a spreadsheet.
If you have many rebates in process, you’ll need to record them somewhere so you can note their status. It may be a good idea to develop a system for filing, organizing, recording and tracking all this information.
- Send everything certified mail.
Unless of course the rebate amount is smaller than what you’d actually pay for certified mail. Is the certified mail (insurance) worth the rebate you’ll receive?
- Follow up if you haven’t received your rebate for some period of time.
Note the date on which you send in any forms or documents so that you can follow up if need be. Watch out for your rebate checks as they can be buried in your junk mail. However, if you have waited a while without a response, then contact your retailer or manufacturer for answers.
- Report any problems to the appropriate entities.
If you’re facing stonewalling or other issues, try contacting these groups, possibly in the given order:
- the consumer affairs department of the manufacturers to try to work it out with them first
- the Better Business Bureau
- the state attorney general’s office
- the Federal Trade Commission.
If enough complaints are filed, the third party organizations may launch an investigation in your behalf. To be honest though, it all just seems another big hassle to me that snowballs with time.
Still not happy? If after all this, you’re still not able to receive your rebate, you can either just forget about it or do what many have been doing to fight back and send a message: boycott (not buying items from the merchandiser in question or any place that offers rebates), or claim “false advertising.”
But our griping has paid off, as more stores are responding to their customers’ feedback and are providing improvements to the rebate process. For instance, some stores, such as Staples, are embarking on a paperless rebates system. As authorities on the matter have said: “You go on line, fill out the form, you get an e-mail confirmation and you typically get your money in 30 days.” Sweet.
It must be obvious at this point that I’m no fan of rebates. They only happen to be the cheaper siblings of health insurance claims, which are the bane of my financial existence. It could be that I’m just not as experienced in handling this as others are. As it stands, I haven’t yet claimed my rebates for my disposable eyewear (contact lenses). I wonder if I can muster enough energy to deal with them since it’s been almost a year: I hope I can still get some money back if I mail them in NOW!
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