For those of us who are into coupons and discounts, nothing rings our bell quite like a huge rebate on a major purchase. And for we geeky oriented savers, rebate nirvana can be reached fairly often. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly a third of all computer related products are sold with some sort of rebate nowadays. For consumer electronics products, it’s only a bit lower at around one-fifth.
Why, you might ask, are companies giving away stacks of cash to entice you to buy their products? Or why don’t they simply set the product’s price lower rather than setting it higher and offering a rebate? We’ve got two words for ya. “Human Nature.” Although offering a rebate may indeed help someone decide to make a particular purchase, according to estimates somewhere between one-third and one-half of rebates are never claimed!
You don’t want to be in the group that fails to collect, do you? Of course not. Here’s a quick primer on rebates and how to make sure you get those stacks of cash back after your purchases.
There are basically two types of rebates available, the instant rebate and the mail-in rebate. Although called a rebate, the instant variety is more or less like a coupon, except usually with a higher value. When you purchase the item the rebate amount is deducted then and there, lowering the price you pay. These also have the added advantage of lowering the amount of sales tax that you pay, since you’re only charged tax on the discounted price. Pretty simple, eh?
The mail-in rebate, on the other hand, requires that you pay full price for the item and then receive a refund in a certain amount later on – usually after jumping through more hoops than a tiger in the circus ring.
First, some good news. Your rebate check won’t be counted as income for tax purposes. The bad news is that since you’ll be paying full-price up front, you will also be paying sales tax on the full purchase price, and you won’t get that money back with your rebate. It’s pennies on the dollar, but still something to consider when making your purchase decision.
Whether you find your rebate offer online, in a store, by direct mail or even in the packaging of the item being purchased, it’s important to read the fine print and understand all of the restrictions and requirements before you make the purchase. Is there an expiration date? Does it only apply to purchases made at a particular store or online site? If you’re buying online and the rebate requires you to send in the original UPC code within so many days of purchase, are you sure the item will even arrive at your home in time? Does the offer require you to make an additional purchase of some sort? Take a look at all of the requirements and make sure you are willing and able to meet them.
Once you’ve made your purchase, carefully follow all of the instructions on the rebate offer. Complete the form in its entirety according to directions. It may ask for serial numbers or item stock numbers or a variety of other information about the product. It may also ask for fairly detailed information about where you made the purchase, as well as all of your own personal information. You may have to highlight or circle the item on your store receipt, and may have to include other original documentation such as the UPC code from the product packaging mentioned earlier. Follow each and every requirement to the letter. If it asks for your original receipt, don’t send a copy, etc. With rebates, you have to make sure you dot every i and cross every t or you’re likely not to get your money.
Be sure to make copies of everything before you send it in so you’ll have the information you need to pursue a claim if your rebate doesn’t arrive. Remember that you may be waiting a long time for it to come, sometimes as long as 90 days, so make a note on the calendar as a reminder of when to expect it. Otherwise, you might forget it altogether and fail to follow up if it doesn’t arrive.
Some offers will have a website where you can register your information and track the progress of your rebate. Remember that registering on the site is not the same as submitting the rebate. It’s usually in addition to the rest of the process.
Also, don’t plan on making a purchase, getting the rebate, and then returning the item for a full refund. You’re very clever, but you’ve already sent in the UPC and original receipt, remember? Who needs the bad karma anyway?
Here’s the best tip of all. Don’t buy something you don’t really need just in order to receive a large rebate. Even “free after rebate” mail-in offers will cost you sales tax on the initial purchase, not to mention your time and effort spent jumping through the hoops. Do you really need that new multi-blade razor handle or gel pen just because it’s “free?” The replacement cartridges are gonna cost you big time. Think about whether the product is something you really want or need before you buy it just for the rebate.
Rebate shopping can be fun and it can help you save big on major purchases, so long as you keep your head when making the purchase decision and jump through all the hoops, and above all remember to submit your claim!