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Companies Really Don’t Want You to Cash Rebate Checks

by Ryan Guina

I’m a big fan of saving money, but I’m not a big fan of the hurdles some companies force you to go through to obtain a rebate. Sometimes companies don’t force you to jump through hurdles, but they often send the checks in a nondescript envelope, sometimes sending a check that looks like it is fake, or one of the “checks” that bulk mail companies send when they want you to redeem rewards such as a “free flight” or “free cruise,” which isn’t really free.

There are many reasons why companies do this. Sending a rebate check in a nondescript envelope reduces the likelihood that it is stolen and doesn’t reach the intended recipient. Of course, it also increase the likelihood that it is tossed in the trash with the rest of the bulk mail. After all, a check that isn’t cashed doesn’t cost the company fulfilling the rebates anything other than the cost to print and mail the check. Part of me thinks it is the cynic in me that has these thoughts, but it’s actually true. Companies count on you not sending in your rebate form, filling it out incorrectly, throwing the check away, or simply not cashing the check once you receive it (due to forgetfulness, laziness, not noticing it is a rebate check). Some states fielded enough complaints about rebate checks that they had to enact legislation to govern how they are processed in their state.

This recent rebate check I received takes the cake – it was a postcard size check sent directly through the mail with no envelope. I had to do a double take to realize it was in fact a rebate check. (sorry for the blurry image; I used my cell phone instead of my scanner).

Rebate Check

This check had my name and address on the front, as well as the routing and account number (all of which are redacted). This doesn’t seem like a safe way to send a check in my opinion, but I’m sure they have safeguards in place, and have done testing to see how many people actually recognize the check for what it is. Before cashing the rebate check, you need to detach the bottom section of the check along the perforated line.

To top it off, the section for signing the check features a very large security warning stating that Positive I.D. is required (along with six lines of instructions), and a very small signature line, making it impossible for me to deposit this remotely as I normally do (I don’t have a local bank for personal use – I deposit all checks via mail or via a Deposit@Mobile with USAA). The small amount of the rebate (only $20) means I can try sending this in via the mail, and if it doesn’t work, I’m not out much money. But I hate that I need to take a chance with something like this.

I’m not against rebates in general. They are a great way to save money, even if they can be a hassle. All in all, though, I prefer automated rebates or cash back from places like Ebates, which is an online shopping portal which gives you cash back on purchases, or by using a cash back credit card. Or, if you are a savvy shopper, you can combine these options with sales and ave even more.


Published or updated June 29, 2012.
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 krantcents

I just earned a $115 rebate because I bought a new refrigerator. I am told I must wait 6 months to receive it. Why does it take so long. Part ($50) of the rebate comes from a recycling company. There is no incentive for them to hurry, but it did entice me to buy. I will bank it as soon as I receive it much to their chagrin.

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2 Ryan Guina

Good idea – most rebate checks have an expiration date on them, often 60-90 days. And be sure to check all of your mail thoroughly as many rebate checks are sent in envelopes that look like bulk mail.

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3 Sun

While the redemption rate of rebates and gift cards favor the company, I don’t attribute rebate checks coming in the form of a postcard as nefarious. I just chalk it up to the simple fact that it costs less to snail mail a postcard than letter.

Today, I purchased a hard drive and you wouldn’t believe all the steps, they (OCZ) wants you to perform to get a measly $10 rebate. I’m sure the small rebate is enough to discourage applying for the rebate. You also are not guaranteed that you will actually receive the rebate as following up is made incredibly difficult.

The only rebates I enjoy is Staples. They really do have the best redemption process I’ve encountered to date.

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4 Ryan Guina

I agree – some rebates aren’t worth the trouble of filling out the paperwork and hoping they will be honored. The lack of transparency in the rebate process is a big hindrance to many people, and has been the subject of several lawsuits and changes to state laws. All of these issues are why I generally prefer instant savings over rebates (unless it is from somewhere like ebates, where everything is tracked electronically).

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5 Charlotte @ HIMMB

The trouble with rebates for me is remembering to send them in. Obviously the companies like to save money too. They spend so much on the junk mail they send they have to make it up somewhere.

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