Mail-In Rebates: Now Available in Paper or Plastic

December 07, 2009
Once the excitement of the holidays wears off, it’s time to start reaping the promised rewards of mail-in rebates. Retailers and manufacturers are changing the way they issue rebates and the Better Business Bureau advises that it’s more important than ever to read the fine print when filing for a rebate.

According to, retailers and manufacturers are increasingly opting to provide rebates in the form of pre-loaded cards as opposed to paper checks. Unlike checks, which can be deposited in a bank and used to pay bills, to get the benefit, consumers must spend. These cards can often only be used where credit cards are accepted. In most cases, the cards can be used at any merchant - much like a debit card - but some retailers are also handing out rebate cards that can only be used at their stores. The cards may also have expiration dates and added fees that could whittle down their value.

“Rebates are a great way to get a deal, but they can also be a great source of frustration for consumers,” said Ken Vander Meeden, BBB of Western Michigan President. “By acting quickly to redeem the rebate and reading the mail-in instructions carefully, consumers can significantly reduce the stress associated with redeeming rebates.”

In the previous 12 months, 70 percent of consumers have taken advantage of manufacturer rebates on products, according to a recent survey by Consumer Reports. The national telephone survey also found that, of those who applied for a rebate, 21 percent of people were unsuccessful. Typically, consumers simply didn’t receive anything or were turned down because of a technicality.

The BBB offers the following advice to holiday shoppers on how to make the process of redeeming rebates as painless as possible:

Don’t wait. Some rebates have a time window in which they can be redeemed or must be redeemed within a certain amount of time following purchase. Waiting also increases your chances of misplacing necessary receipts or packaging.

Read the instructions carefully. The guidelines for redeeming a rebate can be extensive and missing steps may delay the process or result in loss of the rebate. Be sure to indicate how you want to receive the rebate - such as if a gift card is the default option - and include all the necessary paperwork and proof of purchase. Also make a point to thoroughly read the fine print details that are included when you receive your rebate card or check in the mail.

Keep the packaging. Rebates often require UPC bar codes or other parts of the packaging to be included with the paperwork for processing, so don’t throw boxes away until you’re sure you don’t need them.

Make copies of everything. Keep a copy of all the paperwork you mailed back to the retailer or manufacturer for the rebate. It’s the only record you’ll have of the transaction if anything goes missing.

Contact the business if the rebate doesn’t arrive. Some retailers and manufacturers use third-party fulfillment companies for processing rebates so keep in mind that you might be dealing with a different business when it comes to tracking down your rebate.

Help is available if you need it. If the rebate never arrives or is significantly late, file a complaint with the BBB, the Federal Trade Commission or your state Attorney General.

For more advice on being a savvy consumer this holiday season, visit