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Overview

Rebates: Get what you deserve

Last reviewed: September 2009
Illustration of a group of people chasing money attached to a fishing line
Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Our recent national telephone survey revealed that in the previous 12 months, 70 percent of consumers had taken advantage of manufacturer rebates on products. But those for whom rebates could be most useful—people with a household income of less than $50,000 per year—were least likely to apply for them. The box below provides details.

Who took advantage of rebates always or often? Usually people in households with an income of $100,000 or more, those 35 to 64 years old, and women.

The main reason for ignoring a rebate offer was that the process can be a chore: Generally you fill out one or more forms, provide a receipt (often, you have to send the original), clip UPC labels or box tops, and send all that off by a deadline, then wait a month or two for a check or debit card. The bigger the dollar value, the more hoops you have to jump through. Companies say the hoops make it harder for con artists to submit phony claims.

Of people who didn't apply for a rebate, 26 percent said they doubted they would receive it. Their skepticism might be justified: 21 percent of people who did apply in the past 12 months didn't succeed—some of them simply never received anything, and some were turned down because of a technicality.

To make sure you get your rebate:

  • Read and understand requirements, including deadlines, before buying.
  • Copy all of the necessary paperwork and put it in a folder. Record the latest date you expect the rebate.
  • If the rebate form is available online, print it immediately after buying the product. The form might be removed after a promotional period.
  • Don't wait until the deadline. That way, if the company says something's missing, you have time to get it.
  • Keep an eye out for your check, which might resemble junk mail.
  • If the rebate seems late, contact the company. If you're not satisfied, file a complaint with your state's attorney general or with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or 877-382-4357.
How many send in rebates?