The Top 10 Rebate Pitfalls

Mistakes that prevent you from getting paid

Updated October 21, 2022
Person reaching for money inside a trap

Companies like offering rebates in order to boost sales, but when it comes time for them to pay out on the rebate claim, they'd love a good reason to avoid paying you! Stay on top of the game and avoid the pitfalls below in order to maximize the chance of getting your hard-earned money back. And if you'd like a refresher on how the whole rebate process works, check out my Rebate Survival Guide.

Pitfall #1: Not reading the fine print

Most of us probably skim (or skip!) the fine print when signing up for things, but the fine print on a rebate form is stuff you want to pay attention to. Note specific instructions - for instance, if it asks for the original UPC, don't send a copy. If an 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. Scan, make photocopies, or even just take a picture using your phone.

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 avoid this pitfall is to verify that the SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) or UPC numbers on the product and on the rebate form match. SKUs and UPCs 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. And if you receive a prepaid debit card instead of a check, know what the fee schedule and expiry date are.

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. There could be legitimate reasons for this (e.g. due to a recent move), but to the company processing the rebate, it looks like somebody trying to redeem multiple rebates using multiple addresses (i.e. 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.

Keep a copy of the stamped envelope as proof that you mailed it to the correct address. It might be a good idea to purchase Delivery Confirmation to serve as proof of delivery. What you choose should depend on your faith in the processing company, the mail 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 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's a retailer's rebate, it'll do no good to call the manufacturer of the item. But if it's a manufacturer's rebate, the retailer might still 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 on your behalf. 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 payment in that time. Keep the companies accountable, and contact them politely but firmly if they aren't holding up their end of the bargain. 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 claim, 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 there are any issues. Set a recurring calendar reminder to remind you of the outstanding claim.

In Conclusion...

So there you have it. While rebates seem to not be as common as they once were, you'll probably still encounter them if you do enough shopping. Understanding the rebate process, and knowing what problem areas to watch out for, will put you on top of the rebate game.