Mail-in rebates can seem like a great deal. Retail ads are filled with "rebate specials," often including items that are nearly free after the rebate amount is deducted. These deals are hard to resist - which is exactly what retailers and manufacturers are counting on. They use rebate deals to attract customers and get them into stores. Even better, the companies often never need to pay out that rebate money at all. According to, over $500 million in rebates go unclaimed every year.

IN PICTURES: 6 Ways To Save Money This Summer

"Between 40% and 60% of rebates are never redeemed," says Edgar Dworsky, founder and editor of

To ensure the redemption rate stays low, companies often make it as difficult as possible for consumers to claim their rebates. Here are some common tactics.

Multiple Rebates for the Same Item
On the surface, getting more than one rebate on a single item seems like a jackpot for the consumer. In reality, though, it often makes the process too complicated for many people to pursue.

"Each rebate often requires separate mailing, and different proofs of purchase," notes Dworksy. Often, the consumer doesn't realize he needs multiple copies of the receipt or proof of purchase until it's too late. (Find out more retailer tactics and how to avoid them in Attention Discount Shoppers: Don't Buy Just Because It's On Sale.)

Rebates in the Form of a Debit Card
Lately, many companies have begun sending rebates that are pre-loaded on debit cards, which can be inconvenient and confusing for consumers.

"Because these cards come with expiration dates, the companies can plan when they can return that income on their balance sheets," says Christopher Grande, a principal with Walnut Hill Advisors, LLC. Grande has first-hand experience with this tactic, having recently lost nearly half of a $100 rebate card when he forgot to use the balance before it expired.

These rebate cards also sometime have "maintenance fees" or other charges. Plus, many customers who are expecting a traditional paper check rebate in the mail may throw the debit card away, mistaking it for a pre-approved credit card offer. (Learn about a new way to budget that can save you big bucks in Gift Card Budgeting: Pushing (Out) The Envelope.)

Hard-to-Access Required Documentation
"Sometimes the proof of purchase is hard to get at," says Dworksy. "It could be under a hard clamshell plastic package, for instance. Or it could be the inside flap of a box, where a customer is not used to looking." In cases like this, the consumer may unwittingly damage or tear the proof of purchase while opening the package - or may throw it away without even realizing it.

Complicated, Time-Consuming Processes
"If you don't read the fine print and follow all the instructions, your rebate is denied," says Erin Edwards of "Companies are counting on the fact that some people will abandon the rebate process entirely or make mistakes when filling out the form. They also add very specific instructions and hope you will not notice the fine print or deadlines for submitting the rebates."

Another popular tactic: an extremely short rebate redemption period, causing consumers to miss the deadline if they don't submit the forms immediately.

Counting on Forgetful Consumers
If the rebate simply never arrives at all, the company is betting on the fact that you won't notice. "Sometimes the manufacturer delays paying the rebate fulfillment house, and the consumer simply forgets after eight weeks that they are even owed money," says Dworksy. (For related reading, take a look at 5 Money-Saving Shopping Tips.)

Avoid Losing Out
To make sure you get the rebates you're entitled to, be very careful to read all the fine print, submit all required paperwork quickly (after making copies for your records) and follow up if you don't receive an expected rebate in a timely manner. And the next time you are shopping, make sure you consider the hassle of handling a rebate claim before you purchase that item.

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: A Diving Dow And Rotting Eggs.

Related Articles
  1. Investing

    5 Reasons to Rethink Retirement Investing

    Wherever you fall on a retirement crisis, consider these 5 reasons to rethink your investing strategy.
  2. Retirement

    Should You Pay Someone to Create a Retirement Plan?

    Nobody likes to pay for help, but it may be necessary to shell out the extra cash for proper retirement planning help.
  3. Personal Finance

    The Ten Commandments of Personal Finance

    Here are the simple financial Ten Commandments that, when faithfully followed, can lead to a secure economic future.
  4. Professionals

    Project Manager: Career Path & Qualifications

    Learn more about what project managers job, the qualifications necessary for the position and the most common careers for these professionals.
  5. Financial Advisors

    Paying for College: Top Ways to Budget and Save

    Saving for your kids' college education can be complex and expensive. Here are some popular vehicles that help perpetuate college funds.
  6. Retirement

    Suddenly Pushed into Retirement, How to Handle the Transition

    Adjusting to retirement can be challenging, but when it happens unexpectedly it can be downright difficult. Thankfully there are ways to successfully transition.
  7. Savings

    How Parents Can Help Adult Children Buy a Home

    Owning a home isn't easy thanks to stringent lending standards. Thankfully, there's ways parents can help their kids buy a home.
  8. Personal Finance

    How Tech Can Help with 3 Behavioral Finance Biases

    Even if you’re a finance or statistics expert, you’re not immune to common decision-making mistakes that can negatively impact your finances.
  9. Retirement

    4 Ways to Boost the Amount You Save for Retirement

    Retirement can easily last more than twenty years, which means you have to save a lot. Thankfully, there are ways to enhance the amount you put away.
  10. Credit & Loans

    Adjustable Rate Mortgage: What Happens When Interest Rates Go Up

    Adjustable rate mortgages can save borrowers money, but they can't go into it blind. In order to benefit from an ARM, you have to understand how it works.
  1. How does a bank determine what my discretionary income is when making a loan decision?

    Discretionary income is the money left over from your gross income each month after taking out taxes and paying for necessities. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How does the trust maker transfer funds into a revocable trust?

    Once a revocable trust is created, a trust maker transfers funds or property into the trust by including them in a list with ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the range of deductibles offered with various health insurance plans?

    A wide range of possible deductibles are available with health insurance plans, starting as low as a few hundred dollars ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How do I know how much of my income should be discretionary?

    While there is no hard rule for how much of a person's income should be discretionary, Inc. magazine points out that it would ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What proportion of my income should I put into my demand deposit account?

    Generally speaking, aim to keep between two months and six months worth of your fixed expenses in your demand deposit accounts. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How do I use the rule of 72 to estimate compounding periods?

    The rule of 72 is best used to estimate compounding periods that are factors of two (2, 4, 12, 200 and so on). This is because ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center