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Filling My Mailbox with Rebate Checks

My husband believes that mail is dead and should be discontinued. We have this argument every so often—I’m sure you know which side of the fence I’m on! Sure junk mail can be a drag (though sometimes junk mail is quite lucrative [1]), and perhaps the US Post Office is not always reliable, but why get rid of mail all together? How would I send letters to my grandmother?

One way to make mail lucrative and fun is to fill your inbox with rebate checks. Every year I send away for reimbursement of money paid for products, wait the 30, 60, 90+ days, and then receive a check ranging anywhere from $3.00 to $75. The checks of higher denominations do not occur very frequently (only if I have purchased a new electronic of some sort), so I end up receiving lots of checks of $10 or less. But checks or lower denomination can really add up: between September 2009 and March 2010, I received a total of $222.49 in rebates [2].

Why Would a Company Give Away Products?

Rebates only entice me when they are for the full cost of the product, except in the rare circumstance that I am purchasing an electronic (even then I like updating my phone with a new one that is ‘free after rebate’). I am sure there are many other people like me out there, which begs the question: why would a company give their product away for free?

Manufacturers and retailers offer rebates on products for various reasons, all of which will benefit them either directly or indirectly. Perhaps they need to move inventory, create a buzz (a popular Black Friday [3] strategy), mine data, earn money through interest between purchase and redemptions, temporarily inflate sales figures for a period of time (before rebates are redeemed), or are banking on the fact that most consumers do not take the time to send in for their rebates. In fact, many manufacturers bank on this last one. Rebate redemption rates are reported all over the place due to industry secrecy. From what I’ve read, I think it’s fair to estimate that 40% of rebates are never redeemed.

Make a Profit from Rebates

People make a profit from rebates. You might wonder how this could possibly happen as it appears they would only get back the amount that they paid in, and in some cases, even less. But that is not true—you can make a profit off of rebates.

Of all of the rebates I have ever submitted for, only a handful has given me the rebate minus any coupons I have used. In other words, if you use coupons [4] when purchasing a product, you will most likely be reimbursed for the full cost of the product. The coupon savings will be income earned for you. Also, any CVS ExtraCare Bucks [5] or Register Rewards you receive as a result of purchasing the product are above and beyond getting the product for free after rebate.

I have dallied in profiting from rebates by making a few dollars here or there. For example, I purchased a Phillip Sonicare electronic toothbrush, which after rebate and ExtraCare Bucks from CVS, was free. However, I had a $7 manufacturer coupon for this product and still received the full rebate, thus making a ‘profit’ of $7.  

Make Sure You Receive Your Rebate

I have a confession to make: in the last five years or so that I have done rebates, I have not tracked a single one. Perhaps I have missed one or two, but in general I have had good luck with receiving my check in a reasonable amount of time.

There is nothing more frustrating than purchasing a product under the false assumption that you will be getting it for free, taking the time to fill out paperwork, and then never receiving your money back. The FTC suggests [6] making a copy of the receipt and all necessary documents so that if you do not receive your rebate, you have backup documentation. They also suggest keeping track of when you should receive your rebate and then filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the state Attorney General or the local Better Business Bureau if the issue is not resolved.

Also, if you suspect that your rebate is overdue, you can track your rebate online through several sites such as rebatetrack [7], and rebate-tracker.com [8].

Do you send in for rebates? I’d love to hear your successes and failures in doing so.