By Krystal Etienne · 6 minute read
Mail-in rebates sound simple: To submit one, you purchase a qualifying product, fill out its rebate form, and mail the form – and its requested proof of purchase – back to the product manufacturer. If accepted, you should receive a refund in roughly two to four months.
This kind of incentive has become quite popular. You’ve probably seen them in-store (say, an offer of $5 off a purchase of shaving cream) and online, where pop-ups may promise $100 back after buying a $200 smartphone. Even television ads are known to guarantee massive savings on appliances and cars, as long as they’ve first been bought at full price and then a mail-in rebate has been submitted.
It sounds like the path to easy money, but the truth is, many rebates sit and languish. According to ConsumerAffairs.com, more than $500 million in rebates go unclaimed every year. We don’t want you to miss out on this kind of opportunity, so here’s how to claim your savings. Here’s some insider intel plus tips. They’ll help you take advantage of these potential discounts and know the uh-ohs to avoid.
What Exactly Is a Mail-in Rebate?
A mail-in rebate is an offer for a full or partial refund on a product purchase in exchange for providing proof that you bought the item. Rebates are offered directly from manufacturers for any number of reasons. They may be conducting market research, enticing the sale of a pricey item, or looking to empty their inventory of a product that hasn’t captured the consumer’s imagination. Whatever the motivation is, it gives consumers the opportunity to purchase items at a lower cost if they invest a bit of time and effort.
How Do You Submit a Mail-in Rebate?
The concept of mail-in rebates has been around for years, and the process of applying for them largely remains the same. Following these five simple steps can help you successfully submit your rebates.
Step 1: Look in the Right Places
A rebate can appear in many forms. Tear-off pads on product displays or sticker tabs directly on products that say “rebate” are some of the most obvious. Others can be found in the coupon section of a newspaper, on couponing websites, and even the direct websites of the manufacturers. Sometimes, they will come inside the box along with something you’ve ordered or as a tear-off section at the bottom of your receipt. Knowing how to spot them is the first step toward claiming them. But of course, you don’t want to buy something just because it offers a rebate. Many of us are trying to cut back on spending, so only snap up products that you really need.
Step 2: Purchase the Right Product
Rebate offers are very specific about the products to which they apply. This means that when purchasing a product, you should double-check (maybe even triple-check!) that it and triple matches the item specified on the rebate form. If a product is simply the wrong color or size, you run the risk of your rebate being rejected by a manufacturer. When purchasing a product for rebate, carefully check details such as the brand name, style, color, model number, quantity, and even weight against the details on the rebate form to make sure they match.
Step 3: Complete the Rebate Form
The rebate form itself is what outlines the specific parameters of the rebate offer, but it is also where contact information must be provided so that the rebate can be issued upon acceptance. Expect to include contact details such a full name, address, and a phone number in order to fully submit a rebate claim.
Step 4: Collect the Proof of Purchase
The crux of rebate submissions relies on being able to prove that a product was purchased. Rebate forms will specifically outline which forms of proof they require to be submitted, and they can vary from product to product. Two of the most common forms of proof are the purchase receipt and the UPC barcode from the product’s packaging. Be sure to gather the specific proof requested for each product before submitting a rebate.
Step 5: Mail and Wait
After filling out a rebate form and collecting the proof of purchase, the rebate can be mailed to the manufacturer. Use the specific address outlined on the rebate form, and prepare to wait anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks (or even longer) to receive your rebate upon its approval. Processing times vary widely across manufacturers but the fine print on a rebate form will outline what return date to expect for that specific product. Rebates are submitted by countless people worldwide, and even more during the holiday season, so the process will take time.
Mail-in Rebate Tips
Even though the process for submitting a mail-in rebate is fairly simple and straightforward, there are few things to know that can help make the process even easier to manage.
1. Always Get a Receipt
More often than not, a rebate will require a receipt as a proof of purchase. Opting for a receipt with every purchase can help ensure you always have one when you need it. Even in cases where a rebate item may not have been purchased it is good practice to collect a receipt anyway and hold onto it until you’re positive that it is no longer of use and can be discarded. Bonus: Keeping track of receipts and spending can go a long way towards helping you create a budget and stick to a budget.
2. Take Note of Expiration Dates
Rebates aren’t valid forever! With the amount of work required to properly submit a mail-in rebate, not being aware of the expiration date can derail the entire submission. Always check the expiration date on the rebate form, and aim to mail the rebate at least a week prior to the date. This tactic can help ensure that the rebate arrives to the manufacturer on time. Otherwise, your effort to submit will be in vain, and you’ll wind up leaving money on the table, as the saying goes. Don’t let that happen to you!
3. Don’t Consolidate Purchases
It’s common to find multiple product rebates in a single shopping trip, and purchasing them in the same transaction would seem like common sense. However, in the case of multiple rebates, it’s wise to process each rebate in its own separate transaction. Because rebate requirements can differ and each submission will require its own proof of purchase, collecting a unique receipt for each product purchased will help avoid any confusion. You don’t want to be stuck with a single proof of purchase that needs to be sent to multiple locations.
4. Keep the Packaging
Proof of purchase requirements for product rebates can vary, but they all require the product to be in possession of the buyer. The UPC barcode is one of the most commonly requested details, and it’s not uncommon for the manufacturer to request that the barcode be cut out and physically submitted. Depending on the packaging, the UPC barcode can appear on inner or outer product packaging, and without paying attention, it can be easy to discard the packaging altogether without collecting it. Keeping product packaging until all mail-in-rebate requirements have been collected and submitted can help avoid any mishaps during the process. Once you’ve filed your rebate (or, better still, received your money back), go ahead and declutter.
5. Prepare to Follow Up
Though rebate refunds typically take six to eight weeks to arrive, it’s not uncommon for that time to stretch to 12 weeks or longer, if they arrive at all. To prepare for a refund that is delayed past its expected return date, create a spreadsheet that records all the details of a submitted rebate, including the contact information for the manufacturer. Also, make sure to keep copies of everything that has been mailed off — the receipt, the UPC code, and anything else you sent. When contacting a manufacturer for a rebate status, having a detailed tracker and copies of your rebate materials to reference will help the process of claiming your rebate run more smoothly. Yes, it’s an extra (possibly annoying) step, but if you’ve made the effort to get your money back, you do want to follow through!
Mail-in rebates provide great opportunities to save money on everyday products, but they do require a bit of effort to redeem. With a little attention to detail and a lot of patience, your diligence could result in a moderate stash of savings that could be used toward other financial goals.