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Rebate Survival Guide: The Top 10 Rebate Pitfalls

By now you should understand how the whole rebate process works from start to finish, and some common terminology. If not, you should go back and review the previous page.

In this last section, I provide you with the top 10 rebate pitfalls that I've come across in my years of rebate (mis)adventures.

Pitfall #1: Not reading the fine print

Let's face it. No company likes losing money. A company will try to find any reason to deny your rebate.

Always read and follow everything on the rebate form. If it asks for the original UPC, don't send a copy. If the online checkout invoice is required, don't substitute it for a confirmation email. When they say to write in black ink only, they mean it.

You should also know the exact offer terms. Is the rebate valid for online orders, or in-store purchases only? Is it an upgrade rebate that requires you to already own a previous version of a piece of software? How many claims are allowed per household? Usually it's 1.

Pitfall #2: No proof of submission

Simply put, keep copies of everything you submit! If you are later notified that you didn't submit the correct UPC or that there was an error on your invoice, you'll have your own evidence to refer to. Spending a few cents on photocopies is nothing compared to losing a rebate because you had no proof of what you submitted.

Pitfall #3: Buying the wrong item

This one goes along with Pitfall #1, but I think it needs to be specifically noted. Retailers carry many items from the same manufacturer that seem similar. Examples are DVD+R and DVD-R media, a 10-pack set vs a 12-pack set, or a product with premium features vs the standard one. Make sure you are buying the exact one specified on the rebate form.

One easy way to make sure you don't fall into this pitfall, is to verify that the SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) or UPC numbers on the product and on the rebate form match. SKU's and UPC's are unique to a specific item.

Also beware- sometimes with bundled items, the required UPC is a sticker on the outside wrapping. Check what you throw away!

Pitfall #4: Missing deadlines

This one also goes with Pitfall #1, but it's important to point out. There are two timeframes listed on the rebate form that you should care about.

The first is the purchase timeframe. The product must be purchased between those two dates (inclusive) for it to qualify for the rebate.

The second timeframe relates to submission. The rebate form will say that it must be either received or postmarked by a certain date. Miss that date, and you are out of luck.

Finally, rebate checks bear a notice that they must be cashed within a certain period (e.g. up to 90 days from the issue date) or they become void.

Pitfall #5: Personal info doesn't match

Some rebates are denied on the basis that the personal info, like name or address, on the product receipt/invoice doesn't match that on the rebate form.

For example, the shipping address listed on an invoice might differ from the address a person lists on the claim form. He might do this because of a recent move, or because he lives in two different places, but to the company processing the rebate, it looks like somebody trying to redeem multiple rebates using multiple addresses (a.k.a. fraud).

This can be a point of argument, especially if the rebate form doesn't specifically say that personal info has to match, but it's always best to make sure all your info matches if you can help it.

Pitfall #6: "Lost" mail

The mail system is not perfect, but it's generally pretty reliable. Sometimes a company will claim (honestly or otherwise) it never received a mailed submission, and you will be out of luck because the rebate form waives their responsibility for lost or misdirected mail.

I always keep a photocopy of the self-addressed stamped envelope as proof that I mailed it to the correct address. Some people choose to use Certified Mail to prove receipt of submission. What you choose should depend on your faith in the processing company, the mailing system, and the value of the rebate.

Pitfall #7: Actual disreputable companies

As with everything in life, there are some bad apples in the barrel of rebate companies. Before buying a rebate product, it's a good idea to check out consumer complaints on such sites as Rip-Off Report.com and the Better Business Bureau. You might choose not to purchase the product if the rebate issuer or fulfillment house has a poor track record.

Pitfall #8: Not knowing whom to contact

Know who is processing your rebate claim, whether it is done in-house by the manufacturer/retailer, or by an external fulfillment house. This is the first party you should contact when problems occur with your submission.

In the case that your claim is being processed by a fulfillment house, the second line of contact is the issuer of the rebate- either the manufacturer or retailer.

If it is a retailer's rebate, it'll do no good to call the manufacturer of the item. But if it is a manufacturer's rebate, the retailer might be able to help to some degree.

And all else being equal, retailers generally provide better customer service and are more willing to work with the fulfillment houses to help you get your check. This is because they have a more direct interest in your business.

Pitfall #9: Not asserting your rights

If the rebate form lists a turnaround time of 6-8 weeks, you should expect to receive to receive your check in that time. Keep the companies accountable, and contact them politely but authoritatively if they aren't holding up their end of the bargain. Remind them that their terms are a binding contract, and provide proof of materials submitted if necessary.

If the company still refuses to cooperate, consider CC'ing future correspondence to your local Better Business Bureau and state attorney general.

Pitfall #10: Out of sight, out of mind

After you've submitted your rebate, keep on eye on it. Most large rebate processing centers have websites that allow you to check the status of your rebate. Check back from time to time to see if your rebate is being processed timely, and if any problems arise.

In Conclusion...

So there you have it. Rebates are not a breeze, though several retailers (Staples and Office Depot come to mind) have been trying to simplify the process with paperless submission, or eliminate rebates altogether. In the meantime, understanding the rebate process, and knowing what problems areas to watch out for, will put you on top of the rebate game.

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