Are Rebates Worthy of You?

With a new year, many of us may have the illusion that time management can be increased in our lives. Time management, weight management, and money management are likely the three most popular resolutions that return to the scene year after year for most of us. It makes sense. But what doesn’t make sense are the little things in life that we continue to do even though they violate the promise we made to ourselves to do better this time.

One such item that can be a strain on both time and money management skills is the Rebate. Sure, it sounds like a good deal to get $5 back on a $5 purchase, but like most things in life, rebates are not that simple. In fact, after credit card shenanigans, more consumers complain about rebate hassles than anything else — and rightly so. Have you ever tried getting money from a big corporation? Not so easy, is it?

Of course it’s not easy. Companies make it hard for anyone to cut into their profit margin. If rebates were easy then everyone would be pursuing them. So why bother? From the company’s perspective, offering customers money back makes them look good. With nearly everyone struggling to make ends meet, or at least have enough cash put aside for the future, people will continue to flock to the places that give them the best deals. However, a wise consumer remembers what their mother told them — if it looks too good to be true — it probably is.

Rebates Not the Best Incentive

Companies are stepping up to make rebates more attractive so they can trounce the competition. Rebates are very popular in the cell phone industry. But for the consumer, the process of actually getting a rebate is less than attractive. In most cases, you have to pay full price at the time of purchase and log on later to the company’s website to follow through another process of claiming the rebate. Those without Internet access will have to spend even more money on the cost of postage for mailing in receipts and rebate forms. The forms, electronic and paper, usually take some time to complete. Then, after completing all the paperwork, you will likely find yourself waiting at the mailbox for 6-8 weeks, if not longer, to secure that $2.00 rebate check. Worth it? Perhaps, if you have nothing else going on in your life.

Rebate Debit Cards Failing

A newer tactic companies are giving customers is the rebate amount in the form of a debit card. Sounds convenient enough but there are many consumer complaints about the debit cards not working past a certain amount. For instance, you get a rebate card of $30. You charge $27.98 on the card and the next time you go to use it, it isn’t accepted. Oftentimes stores won’t even let you use a debit card unless the total on the card exceeds the amount due.

Rebate Trickery

Some companies not only make it hard to get the rebate, they make it easy to get one over on the consumer. Imagine going to a store to make a purchase, anticipating an instant $20 rebate only to discover after looking at your receipt at home the company actually charged you an additional $20. It happens more than consumers realize. Failure to check receipts or rebate requirements leaves many consumers not only out the rebate amount but paying more for the item out of their own pockets.

Rebate Scams

Sadly, there are still those who profit off consumers trust. ‘Rebate’ checks are sent to unsuspecting consumers that, once cashed, actually trigger charges on consumer bank accounts. Consumer who don’t read the fine print are often surprised to find that the fine print actually states cashing the check is an agreement to enroll in some kind of program that costs consumers ridiculous amounts of money each month. This is certainly not a hassle you want to undertake in your busy life. Rebate checks have a history of taking a long time to get so if your rebate pops up in the mail in a day or two, it may be a clue that something is not on the up and up.

To Rebate or Not to Rebate

Depending on your experience with rebates and retailers, there may still be a few good rebates out there that are worth your time and effort. But they are becoming few and farther between. Instead, it is recommended that you search out legitimate money saving offers that aren’t dependent on a rebate. Pay attention to the regular price of the item when you are shopping or comparing goods. Consider that there is never any guarantee you’ll get your money back.

What are your experiences with rebates?

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Guest's picture

I've never had a problem with rebates. I don't tend to mess with ones less than $10, and typically only deal with rebates on items that I was buying anyway. It takes me 10-15 minutes at the most to fill out the forms, double check that I've done everything correctly (the reason most rebates are rejected), and stick a stamp on the envelope. I don't even mind the debit cards - I just use them at the grocery store as part of my total payment. Never had an issue.

Guest's picture

There is only one store I do rebates for and that is Menards, a hardware store. They have several items that are free after rebate, their rebate forms 99% of the time all go to the same location, and the forms are the easiest ones I've seen to fill out (just write down your address and mail in with the special receipt printed out).

Guest's picture

I received a $50 rebate card from Verizon on my latest phone purchase. This post hit right where I'm stuck-- I'm unable to use the last $2.36 of the money I was "given back". It's a small amount to me, and not enough to gripe or take action on, but I imagine the collective amount of leftover rebate cash Verizon is netting from thousands of rebate leftovers is considerable, and that irks me.

Guest's picture

If they're $50 or $20 or so, yes they're worth it. But a $5 rebate that takes 25 minutes probably isn't worth my time.

Guest's picture

I usually fill out rebate forms, but not because I think they're worth it. I just feel bad and guilty if I don't.

Guest's picture

If you rebate debit card is less than the amount of your purchase you just need to let the cashier know that you need to make a "split" payment between two credit cards. You will need to know the exact amount on your rebate debit card and have them charge you that amount on the debit card and pay the remainder using your other credit/debit card. This will only work at stores that allow split payments between two credit/debit cards (not all stores have this feature). You can also do a split payment transaction with cash, but you have to do some math first. Because of the way most registers are set up they require cash payments before credit/debit payments. So take your total, subtract the amount of your rebate debit card and pay that amount in cash first, then your remainder will be exactly what you have left on your debit card. No leftover money to worry about.

Another option is to use the debit rebate cards to purchase store gift cards in the same amount since they don't have the same issues. (I have not tried this personally though, I assume it would work but I don't know for sure).

I agree rebates can be a little complicated, but I think in general they are worth the effort.

Guest's picture

I do nearly $500 of rebates per year. I try to avoid buying things that are useless -- the rebates I submit are for useful products (school supplies, food, anti-virus software) and from reliable companies (Staples, Tyson, McAfee, Olay).

Right on with the rebate cards -- last thing I want is another piece of plastic in my wallet. On the other hand, my mom likes the cards because she doesn't have to make a trip to the local bank, but she usually has large grocery purchases to which the entire value of the card can be applied in one fell swoop!

Guest's picture

I don't let a rebate for a big-ticket item sway my decision - I've been screwed by Tiger Direct, CompUSA and Staples. Apparently Tiger Direct is notorious for rejecting rebates. The Rite Aid rebate program is a piece of cake - you know within 3 days if your purchase qualified, it's all done online, and if it doesn't qualify you can just return the item. I often do rebates for Nabisco and Kelloggs - so far so good. I got my Verizon Wireless cell phone rebate in the form of a $50 debit card and took the option to transfer the $50 into my bank account.

Guest's picture

Those Debit Card rebates can be tricky but you can get your money worth if you 1) Track how much you have exactly on the card and 2) Know where you can go and ask the store to charge your debit card for an exact amount... then you can get every last cent out of them. I've done it multiple times and always get all my money. Oh and don't forget use those cards in a timely fashion, otherwise you'll get charged a fee and watch your rebate money go down the drain.

A great place, I've found, to use those debit cards is Target. Just tell the checker that you want to pay for $xx.xx amount (the exact amount you have left) on "this card" (giving them the debit card), and then pay the rest with whatever other form of payment you normally use. Easy Peasy.

Guest's picture

Regarding Debit Cards, I recently purchased a Droid with a $100 rebate from Verizon. I received the rebate well before I was expecting it, and it came in the form of a debit card.

When I read the enclosed documents on how to use it, I found that I could transfer the debit card to my bank account! So I followed the directions, and 2 days later, voila! $100 in my bank account. Soooo easy!

Do all rebate debit cards do this, or is this a first?

Guest's picture

I've had mostly good results -- got my Kraft and Kellogg's rebates no problem. But we did the Sears thing where you are supposed to spend $50 on men's clothing and get $50 Sears cash back. Checked over everything w/ the cashier to make sure it was all good, and Sears denied the rebate. Have been meaning to argue w/ them -- it's $50 after all!
But I've heard a lot of people get wrongly denied by Sears. I won't get sucked into that again, which means we probably won't set foot in their stores again because that was the first thing that brought us in one for years.

Tisha Tolar's picture

I've done several rebate offers that were definately worth the money - or so I thought - but each time there was some kind of issue and I ended up losing money. I am glad that a lot of you have had success and are able to save cash. If anyone has specific, on-going rebate offer information for everyday things please post them here. I'd love to take advantage of things that actually will work and don't require ten tons of red tape.

Tisha Tolar


Guest's picture
Cat Martin

For any rebate that I receive on a prepaid card, I use it to buy a gift card. $10 prepaid card is used to buy a $10 gift card at a store of my choosing (usually grocery store) and then I spend that gift card on my purchase. Works out well and I don't lose any of the money from the rebate.

Guest's picture

I also got the gift card rebate for buying a Droid. Reading over the information that came with it, I realized that I could take it to the bank and get cash for it. I did just that - and didn't have to worry about being left with that random amount on it that I wouldn't be able to use.

Guest's picture

i would suggest to never buy anything for the rebate. i use to read lots of letters that people bought the thing for the rebate then do them all wrong. HP was notorious for complicated rebates and multiple rebates, we would see people sending entire boxes to us or b/c HP put soo many barcodes on the boxes many would send the wrong barcode. Also all the rebates say orginial barcode so your only likely to get 1 rebate if filled out correctly. it was horrible when parents sent laptops to troops w/ the entire box only to find out they needed the origninal barcode. i hated to read those letters, too keep my job i would have to mark in the database a photocopy was sent (most likely no rebate check would be sent). the Katrina letters were even harder to read.
1. completely read rebate
2. never throw out the box or reciept
3. make photocopies of everthing
4. if mailing make sure name is eligable in right hand corner (used if no name on rebate or to messy to read)
5. offset mailing stamp a little lower (post mark is used for date eligibility)
6. spell your name the way you want it on check or card (the way you spell it that is how it is going to come out)
7. add street address with PO BOXs (for fraud purposes)
8. only send what is needed (seen letter w/ ids, once i got $200 in cash, i turned it in)
9. put your name and address on the back of all barcodes (your rebates sees a lot of hands)
Good Luck!

Guest's picture

Correction to #4- Make sure your name is eligable in LEFT hand corner where it usually goes. (sorry)

Guest's picture

McAfee Preloaded Debit Card Rebate

Stores selling McAfee software offer enticing deals to capture customers. These deals often involve preloaded Visa debit cards. Customers are told they will receive a specific sum on a debit card in exchange for their purchase of the McAfee software. But when the debit card is eventually used to make a purchase, the customer discovers the amount on the card is not the same as was promised.

What the customer does not know when purchasing the McAfee product is that a $3 fee will be deducted monthly from the debit card after a short grace period. The bank will continue to remove $3 a month from the debit card until the card is drained.

If that happened to you after you purchased McAfee software, we'd like to hear from you. Please visit