Some money-saving strategies, like shopping sales or using couponing apps, are fairly straightforward. But other methods, such as mail-in rebates, may require you to step through a few hoops before you can save.
If you’re unfamiliar with rebates, they’re a way that manufacturers work to encourage you to buy certain products or services by rewarding you with full or partial reimbursement after the purchase is complete. Typically this involves buying the product at full price, then sending documentation to the manufacturer along with proof of purchase, generally within 30 days of the original purchase.
Rebates can rely on mail, but you can also get an almost-immediate rebate through online sites, or at checkout. When you get money back from the manufacturer, it may come by check, gift card, a direct deposit or a voucher for a particular product.
Pros and Cons of Mail-in Rebates
Rebates can save a lot of money—appliance manufacturers may offer more than $1,000
Many products qualify, including appliances, hotels, pet food, and cosmetics
Energy-efficient appliances and hybrid cars may qualify for rebates
Only requires time, postage, and access to a copy machine or scanner
The rebate redemption process can involve time-consuming steps
Complicated requirements discourage some rebate redemption
Postage may be more expensive than the actual rebate
You might forget to request your rebate in time
How to Get Your Rebate
If you have a rebate offer in front of you, be sure to complete the steps according to the directions in the letter. Companies are likely to send back your rebate request, unpaid, if you miss even the smallest step in the process. However, you will generally follow some version of these steps to collect your rebate cash.
1. Check for Rebate Offers
Sometimes you’ll find a rebate offer right on a product’s label or on store signage, in store circulars, alongside sales or deals. Websites may offer lists of rebates, but if you have a particular brand in mind that you’re planning to buy (for instance, a Maytag washing machine), visit that manufacturer’s website to look for rebates.
Stacking these offers—combining a sale with manufacturer’s and store coupons and then adding a rebate as well—can save you money. Depending on your state, rebate signs may be required to list the pre-rebate price, or it may list the price after rebate. Review signage and documentation to find out how you’ll get your refund, and if you have to pay any fees to get it.
You might also qualify for a rebate from your utility company, city, county, or state, if replacing an older appliance with a “green” appliance, or if you’re buying an electric or hybrid car.
2. Buy the Product
Next, purchase the product in question. Be careful when selecting the item, because it must match the model number, size, weight, or other details listed in the rebate offer—otherwise, your rebate offer may not be valid. You may even be required to buy more than one item to qualify for the rebate.
After purchase, save the product packaging, the receipt, and any documentation inside the product until you receive your rebate money. The manufacturer might request additional details or proof of purchase after receiving your rebate form.
Sometimes, retailers may advertise rebates that have expired, or you may be very close to the rebate deadline. Some retailers, like Amazon, state that you can qualify for the rebate as long as you buy before the purchase deadline.
3. Complete the Rebate Documentation
Fill out all required documentation exactly as the company requests. According to the Federal Trade Commission, commonly requested items include the original receipt, UPC Code, rebate slip and your name, address, and phone number. You might also need to include a serial number or model number.
The UPC code is a series of black bars with numbers beneath, often found on the exterior of packaging. However, it’s possible for multiple, different barcodes to be on one box—call the manufacturer for help if necessary.
Some companies may have unusual requests, such as requiring the rebate to be stapled to the request, while others may reject your request based on this detail. Other manufacturers may want the entire side of a box, a box top or other piece of information.
Scan or photocopy all paperwork you send to the company, for documentation. Also, write down the address you’re sending the rebate request to. Rebates are often processed by fulfillment centers that differ from the manufacturer.
4. Send In Your Rebate Documentation
Address the envelope to the rebate company and make sure you apply the correct postage, as sometimes these packages are heavier than normal. If you’re hoping to get a large refund check in return, you might send your request by certified mail with delivery confirmation.
Mail well before the deadline to ensure that it gets to the destination on time, because if you miss the deadline, even by a day, your rebate is likely to be rejected.
Some manufacturers and retailers offer online processing for mail-in rebates. In that case, you may need to upload a photo (.jpg or .png file) or a PDF of your sales receipt.
If you have multiple rebates, carefully read the rules to determine whether you can submit multiple applications in one envelope, or if it must be done separately.
Your rebate paperwork is generally due within 30 days of purchase. The rebate documentation will explain how long it will take for your rebate to arrive, which may be up to 12 weeks later. If no timeframe is offered, the Federal Trade Commission defines a “reasonable” amount of time as 30 days. The FTC has brought charges against some retailers for not fulfilling their rebate promises.
If Your Rebate Is Late or Wrong
Read the fine print so you can avoid getting your rebate request denied. Common reasons for rebate denial include failure to include all required documentation, missing the deadline and failing to buy the product within the designated time frame.
However, if you know you checked all the boxes, submit a letter asking for information to the original address, and include your copied documentation—after copying it again, of course. There may also be a phone number or online page where you can check the status of your submission.
If you don’t receive your rebate after following up, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, your state attorney general, or your local Better Business Bureau.
The Bottom Line
Some shoppers find that they aren’t willing to follow the steps involved in completing mail-in rebates, and instead stick to rebate apps instead. Others might be happy to fill out the rebate documentation because the payoff is worth it for them. Take stock of what your time is worth and weigh that against the time required to collect the rebate so you can determine whether the rebate is right for you to pursue.